Tracking Transportation

Tracking Transportation

Keeping track of transportation

MBTA's 'good repair' cost rises to $7.3b

MBTA’s ‘good repair’ cost rises to $7.3b

Number was $6.7b last winter, $3.1b in 2009

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

THE COST OF BRINGING the MBTA’s trains, stations, tracks and other assets into good working condition has only grown larger with closer scrutiny, rising to $7.3 billion, according to a presentation on Monday.

That is $651 million larger than the $6.7 billion state-of-good-repair backlog Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack reported last winter. Pollack’s earlier estimate was more than double the $3.1 billion state of good repair backlog reported by transportation officials in 2009.

“The number has moved significantly because we’ve become more precise,” said Steven Poftak, a member of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board, who has worked on the issue.

The state-of-good-repair program looks at the cost of replacing or repairing equipment and infrastructure to bring it into good working condition. State of good repair reporting has grown larger and more detailed, covering more than 250,000 assets, up from the 95,316 included in the 2009 report.

As the cost of bringing the system into a state of good repair increases, the tension between the goals of improving existing service and expanding service to new areas could heighten. Last week MBTA officials disclosed that Green Line Extension costs could rise from $2 billion to $3 billion unless steps are taken.

“It’s important to have this information at the same time as the board and the Commonwealth are making decisions about the Green Line because another billion dollars at the Green Line is money that isn’t going into the assets we already have, and it’s a balancing act,” Pollack told reporters. She said, “We have to do both and the questions is how you balance.”

Some “major gaps” remain in the repair database, which lacks data on commuter rail infrastructure, such as rail, power and signals, officials said.

“You can’t even begin to make the right choice until you have that information,” Pollack said after the meeting, referring to the costs associated with establishing positive train control on the commuter rail, the Green Line Extension and state of good repair.

Benefitting from more information than a prior report in February, the report released Monday showed differences both positive and negative compared to the older report.

The new report included major decreases in the amount of work needed for power, bridges and signals, while the state of good repair backlog increased for track and vehicles. Track costs increased by $885 million and vehicle costs increased by $737 million at the same time required signal work decreased $579 million and bridge costs decreased $302 million.

While power assets make up a relatively small portion of the repair backlog, Poftak said the power assets are in the worst shape.

Rail dominates the repair backlog. Subway accounts for 44 percent while commuter rail accounts for 43 percent, and bus service is only 9 percent of the repair backlog. The Red, Green and Orange lines are in the greatest need, while the Blue Line has a relatively small state-of-good-repair backlog, according to a presentation given by MBTA Capital Budget Director Thom Duggan.

Managing the repair backlog will be expensive. The state of good repair backlog could be eliminated by 2040 by investing $765 million annually. Annual expenditures of $472 million at today’s dollar value would keep the repair backlog where it is.

This year the state plans to spend $663 million on state-of-good repair and safety projects. If that level of state spending continued, the backlog would be reduced to $2.6 billion by 2040, officials said.

Between September 2014 and August 2015, the state put $554 million toward the MBTA’s state of good repair program. About $228 million was spent on expansion that same year. In prior years, the MBTA failed to follow through on much of its capital budget.

T control board may hire Green Line consultant

T control board may hire Green Line consultant

Want outsider to trace the cause of spiraling costs

THE MBTA FISCAL AND MANAGEMENT CONTROL BOARD’S lack of confidence in the transit agency’s ability to build the Green Line Extension to Somerville and West Medford plunged to new lows Tuesday as the board members signaled their interest in possibly recruiting an outside firm to analyze the current cost overruns and develop new project management strategies.

Control board chairman Joseph Aiello said he wanted to find out not only how costs on the trolley line ballooned to more than $3 billion, but where the MBTA managers and technical experts fell short in failing to recognize the scope of the problem.

“I continue to be just extremely worried about how we got here,” he said.

Aiello expressed fears that any possible future cost overruns could jeopardize the agency’s entire capital budget. “This is not the only big project we are looking to do as a transit authority,” he said.

Interim MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola gave the board a brief overview of cost increases since 2010. In June 2010, the price tag for the Green Line Extension was $953 million. By September 2013, the project’s costs had increased to $ 1.4 billion; a little more than a year later the figure was $ 1.8 billion. By January 2015, the cost had gone up to nearly $2 billion. Last week, the board learned that costs could shoot up further to nearly $3 billion.

“I’m not wholly confident that we‘ve got this right yet,” said Steve Poftak, a control board member and the executive director of Harvard’s Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston.

Control board members agreed that an outside evaluator might be better able to determine how costs spiraled out of control and at what point project managers knew they had a problem, but they didn’t take any action at their Monday meeting.

The US Department of Transportation’s Federal Transportation Administration, which provided funding under its New Starts program, also came in for criticism.  “This was vetted by federal agencies,” said Brian Lang, the head of the Unite Here Local 26, Boston’s hotel and food service union. “It’s mind blowing that so many could have looked at it and said ‘yeah, this makes sense, the numbers line up.’ ”

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack noted that the control board had several options: MassDOT staff could continue to rework the costs and determine what revenues would be available to proceed with the project; incorporate “lessons learned” into the project as it gets re-evaluated; and assess the current project management team and determine what changes need to be made.

Aiello said that the cost overruns indicated that there were significant shortcomings on the management side, especially when it came to understanding new construction project methods and handling requests from community groups for more station upgrades. “Was there anyone playing defensive back saying that we couldn’t do it?” he asked.

The board chair indicated that he was open to “radical” ideas on how to deal with the MBTA’s latest problem and pushed back on Pollack’s suggestions. “We need to have a pretty dramatic set of choices about how to move forward,” Aiello said. “Do we need to bring an outside receiver-type to come in and really independently provide the leadership on a project like this?”

Pollack said that MassDOT was responsible for supporting the board if members needed to go outside the agency for help. “I completely agree that the board may have to have its own independent advice,” she said.

T spin on the Green Line Ext.

T spin on the Green Line Ext.

In June emails, official said 'nothing has changed'

I heard the cost of the Green Line Extension was spinning out of control in early June, but I had no proof and ended up not writing anything. That’s my bad. But my back-and-forth with the MBTA on the issue, all captured in emails, is nevertheless very revealing about the mindset of government officials, and their willingness to be open about a major setback for a key transportation project.

I got wind of the escalating Green Line costs in June in fairly random fashion from a source I had never dealt with before. The tip was surprising, since the Patrick administration at the end of last year had led everyone to believe that the project was on track thanks to a nearly $1 billion federal appropriation. I ran my tip by Joe Pesaturo, the MBTA spokesman, who in his responses to me copied Michael Verseckes, the spokesman for the Department of Transportation. Here is what Pesaturo had to say back in June. (To enlarge the email exchange, click on it.)

BMOHL_EmailCapture_1

Pesaturo’s insistence that nothing had changed put me in an awkward position. I didn’t know my source well enough to go with the story. Besides, the information I had was vague. I ran my tip by a couple other officials, but none of them knew anything. I never got the opportunity to question Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack or T interim General Manager Frank DePaola.

On Monday, MBTA officials revealed that the Green Line Extension project is running $700 million to $1 billion over budget. DePaola said he first learned of the problem in May. Officials say they spent more than two months analyzing the latest cost estimates before briefing the T’s new Fiscal and Management Control Board. Despite the months spent analyzing the problem, T officials seemed caught off guard by the funding gap. They said their options include pumping more money into the project, scaling back its size and scope, or scrapping it all together.

After the news broke, I emailed both Pesaturo and Verseckes to ask them about their earlier comments. Here is my exchange with Pesaturo.

BMOHL_EmailCapture_2Here’s what Verseckes had to say.

BMOHL_EmailCapture_3Their view seems to be that the earlier statements were accurate because nothing officially changed at the T until Monday. But something had changed, and they kept that information under wraps for more than two months until they were ready to go public with it.

 

 

 

Stay the course on Green Line Ext.

Stay the course on Green Line Ext.

But streamline the project and install new managers

THE DISCLOSURE OF A BREATHTAKING potential billion-dollar cost overrun for the proposed Green Line Extension was unwelcome news.  Not only did it take everyone by surprise, it undermined confidence in the MBTA and threatened a project that under any and all circumstances would pass the test for a prudent and necessary expansion of the system.  I do not want to re-litigate here the necessity of the Green Line extension to Tufts University – this was settled long ago.  What I would like to do is offer three observations and a few suggestions for getting past this challenging moment.

First, those in charge of the Green Line Extension project should be held accountable for their utter failure to keep the lid on costs.  I am, as you know, a big supporter of the MBTA and its employees, but there comes a time when you need to call the question on poor performance, and this is such a time. This is especially true for the private sector construction managers who appear to have blithely moved forward with an unrealistic approach to this work.  What were they thinking?  It’s as if they have been living in a hermetically sealed chamber, impervious to common sense and oblivious to the public debate about transportation funding priorities that has taken place in Massachusetts since 2009.  It’s as if they weren’t around during the winter meltdown, when public confidence in the T sank to historic lows.  If ever there was a time to demonstrate that we can expand our transit system in a fiscally responsible and intelligent way, it was now.

Those of us who care deeply about public transportation have been calling for more revenue for needed investment, and for continued expansion projects like the Green Line Extension.  We do not support profligate spending. We do support wise and targeted spending.  We have had to fend off counter arguments from those who say that we cannot afford to expand when we have so many state-of-good repair needs.

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Sadly, this news feeds into the narrative that MBTA expansion projects are unwise because they are unaffordable. It also feeds into the narrative that we should stop expanding the T while we continue to have a monstrous state of good repair backlog.  Both of those narratives are misleading. Conflating the backlog of critical repair and maintenance needs – a $6 billion backlog – with the need to undertake strategic capacity expansion projects offers a false choice.

The repair and maintenance backlog must be addressed on an accelerated basis and there is a way to do this without raising anyone’s taxes, fares, or fees – by transferring a portion of T debt to the state and shifting a small percentage of highway dollars to transit. Strategic expansion in certain areas, like extending the Green Line, connecting the Red and Blue lines, and introducing high quality Bus Rapid Transit along key routes, is required in order to keep pace with our growing economy and changing demographics.  If we don’t keep pace with the times, we will simply fall further behind and never get out of the cycle of a chronically underinvested, unreliable, over-capacity system. Our mobility future depends on our ability to invest in fixing what we have, and also building strategic, targeted expansions of the system.  Both are required. Both must be done.

Now comes news of a prospective billion-dollar cost overrun, cutting the rug out from under those of us who have been carrying the torch of re-investment and expansion. I am left to conclude that the private and public sector folks who are in charge of the Green Line Extension simply do not get it.  They have jeopardized not just a critically important expansion of public transportation, they have hurt the credibility of the MBTA and they have demoralized transit advocates who have been spending personal and political capital to advocate for accelerated investment in public transportation.

Clearly the current construction procurement method – innovative for the T – has failed to keep costs in check. I would abandon it before more damage is done and move to a more traditional method that includes incentives for performance and delivery according to cost and schedule milestones.  The private sector construction managers ought to be replaced.  The public sector managers of the Green Line Extension ought to be reassigned.

Second, lets continue the project but on a more realistic, scaled-down basis. Cutting back on the proposed pedestrian and bike path would be a mistake. The way to extract meaningful savings won’t be to nickel and dime those project elements that are specifically designed to offer modal choices and modal equity.  But the question must be asked: Why do we need gold or silver-plated transit stations along a light rail corridor?  Why can’t we have very nice, functional stops similar to those along the Green Line in Newton and Brookline?  My sense is that the proposed Green Line Extension stations, as currently designed, may be a large driver of the high costs.  If so, lets move away from that quickly, and focus on moving people from origin to destination in a reliable and safe manner.  We need the best functional extension, not the best imaginable extension.

This quandary is reminiscent of something I’ve written about before: the rejection of the proposed Silver Line Phase 3 in 2009.  This is an instructive tale worth repeating.  I shelved an unrealistic proposed $2.1 billion Silver Line tunnel project, and directed the T to build instead what was basically the same service at a total cost of $1.7 million.  Today’s Silver Line 4 service is a bus system, nothing particularly elegant or special, but it is highly functional and it gets people where they need and want to go.  At a fraction of the cost of the Silver Line Phase 3 tunnel, the SL4 was – and is – an example of thinking outside the box, and focusing on what really matters, which is bringing mobility to as many people as possible.  That is how everyone ought to be approaching the Green Line Extension now.

Third, it’s time to test all prior assumptions.  Does the Green Line Extension really need its own new maintenance facility?  I was told innumerable times when I was secretary that this was a critical necessity.  The original placement of the proposed maintenance facility was close to the Brickbottom residential building and was holding up the project.  We made a decision to relocate it, and unlocked the logjam in 2009.  But I wonder whether anyone has taken a fresh look at the cost of this proposed facility and its absolute necessity and functionality? Could this maintenance work be performed at existing facilities?  Could those existing facilities be expanded to accommodate the additional equipment, at a lower cost than building a new one?  Perhaps significant savings can be achieved by a re-think of whether we need a maintenance facility, and, if so, whether we need the one that has been designed.

There ought to be no turning back from extending the Green Line to Union Square and Tufts University.  The Green Line is a state commitment following a lawsuit that successfully challenged our misguided auto-centric investments of the 20th century.  More to the point: there is no one who can credibly say that we shouldn’t connect Tufts University to transit.  Nor can we ignore the demographic changes that make this corridor a prime example of a transit-oriented district.  We need to get this done.  It’s ironic that this headache has been presented to Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, whose strenuous efforts throughout her career helped ensure the kind of capacity improvement and modal equity that the Green Line Extension epitomizes. Because she understands these issues better than most, I have high confidence she will not let the false narratives displace sound judgment. We need to stay the course – just not the course of runaway costs.

I look at the state of transportation affairs in Greater Boston and its hard to square what we are doing – and not doing – with what I believe most people would like us to do.  It is also hard to square our actions –and inactions – with what we clearly ought to be doing.  A casino with no credible transportation plan is sailing through, even though we know that it will likely add to increasingly chronic daytime congestion on Interstate 93.  Access to Logan Airport from the south is a nightmare any time after 3 p.m. each day, as the access ramps from the Southeast Expressway move at a snail’s pace. Our innovation districts are becoming tangled in chronic congestion. We are paving the way to another era of highway gridlock and underperforming public transportation.  We are letting this happen now, right under our very eyes.

The Green Line Extension isn’t a perfect antidote to auto-centric policies that are doomed to fail, but stopping it in its tracks will squander an opportunity to influence our mobility future for the better.  Support for the Green Line Extension is support for a 21st century mobility platform, for cleaner air, for a more robust regional economy.  Those of us who support it need to join together to support completion of this project – but not completion at any cost.  Completion must come after hitting the restart button, re-assessing the wisdom of the current approach to building the project, and putting in place public and private sector project managers who will get the job done in a fiscally responsible way.

We don’t need the best outcome; we need the best functional outcome. Getting this right will pay huge dividends, not just for the people who will use the Green Line Extension, but also for everyone whose mobility future depends upon maintaining public confidence in our public transportation system.

James Aloisi is a former state transportation secretary and a principal at the Pemberton Square Group.

Green Line extension endangered

Green Line extension endangered

Officials eye killing long-planned project as costs balloon

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

THE COST SET set by the Green Line Extension contractor for the first three stations is more than double the amount state and federal transit officials recently estimated, calling into question the full price tag of the new trolley line and whether the state can afford to build it.

Recently estimated at about $2 billion – which doesn’t include the cost of financing – the full cost of adding seven new trolley stations in East Cambridge, Somerville and Medford could wind up as much as $1 billion over budget, MBTA Interim General Manager Frank DePaola told reporters on Monday. Officials who briefed the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday afternoon are now looking to renegotiate with the contractor and alter the plans.

An early phase of building a new Lechmere Station, a spur to Union Square, and Washington Street Station in Somerville was estimated to cost $387 million this past winter when the Federal Transit Authority approved nearly $1 billion in federal funding.

White Skanska Kiewit (WSK), the company awarded construction of the project under a unique procurement process, now estimates construction of those first three stations to cost $898 million, throwing into question the affordability of the plan to build a total of seven stations ending near Tufts University.

“Everything’s on the table, and everything includes canceling the project, but that’s not where we want to go, but we need a project we can afford to build,” Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told reporters Monday.

Transportation officials are now looking at whether more modest stations – similar to elsewhere on the Green Line, in Newton – could shave costs. Other savings include scaling down or elimination of a multi-use path that is part of the plan. Additionally, state transportation officials are looking at the possibility of using other revenue sources, including federal highway funding, and potentially funding from entities that would benefit from the new transit line.

WSK has the freedom to set the price because the state used construction-manager-general-contractor, a type of procurement that DePaola said the federal government has endorsed for large projects that allows for one company to perform simultaneous design and construction of a project. The traditional model would start with the design, then have contractors bid on that and, normally, choose the lowest bidder. While additional engineering has revealed geological conditions and polluted soil that upped the $387 million price, DePaola said the dramatically higher cost may be caused by the contractor pricing in risk and the hot Boston construction market.

“I’ve actually known this since May 21,” DePaola said. He said, “We were stunned obviously.”

The Conservation Law Foundation, the advocacy group where Pollack worked years ago that sued the state to move the project forward, supported transportation officials’ plan to deliberate and gather feedback before deciding on what to do next.

“CLF is disappointed to hear about the increased cost estimate,” according to a statement from the organization. “It is important at this time to engage the public and all stakeholders in a deliberate process on how to tackle these financial challenges. The full Green Line Extension is not only a critical regional transportation project, but also a legal requirement under the federal Clean Air Act and as such we need to find good solutions to ensure completion of this project. CLF stands ready to help.”

The procurement method allows the state to cap its risk. A third option might involve the state going out to bid separately on particular aspects of the project, such as the Union Square Station. Alternatively, the state could restart the procurement – eliminating the possibility of WSK from participating.

The state’s power in renegotiating with the contractor derives from the possibility that the state could either walk away from the court-mandated project or remove White Skanska Kiewit by going back out to bid.

Pollack said dealing with the ballooning cost could require legislation and involvement by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board of Directors as well as the control board.

The state has already invested significant “sunk costs” into the project, money that has already been invested and cannot be recouped, Pollack said.

Funds are there for North-South Rail Link

Funds are there for North-South Rail Link

Advancement in technology and added revenues justify the cost

THE NEXT TIME you decide to write about a major transportation project that two former governors strongly support and in which they were deeply involved during their terms in the  corner office, please do us the favor of getting in touch with us first before you write a column like the one that appeared in CommonWealth on Wednesday. We may have our strengths and our weaknesses, but nobody ever accused us of advocating pie in the sky projects without the money to pay for them.

Here are the facts about the North-South Rail Link, why we strongly support it, and how we believe the Commonwealth can pay for it without raising new revenue.

The Link was actually part of my original plan for the Big Dig. As you may know, the Big Dig itself was strongly opposed by the Reagan administration and required a Congressional override, and in the face of that opposition we had to swallow hard and accept the fact that rail would not be part of the Big Dig.

Fortunately, Gov. William Weld made sure that the project would move forward as quickly as possible. He appointed an impressive citizens advisory committee for the project. With the help of Ted Kennedy, he secured $5 million in federal grant money for an exhaustive study of the Link, its environmental impact and its engineering requirements, and thanks to Bill Weld an underground alignment and ” corridor” were preserved as part of the Big Dig that is utility free and ready for excavation.

Moreover, tunneling technology has advanced dramatically around the world. Over a dozen cities are building these links to connect stations within their major cities at very reasonable cost. London’s Crosstown project is 20 miles long, 13 of them underground, and has already unearthed Roman ruins and the remains of Richard III.

Why does it make far more sense to build the Link now in Boston rather than spend close to $2 billion simply to add additional tracks at North and South Station, tracks which become totally unnecessary as we tried to point out in our op-ed piece in the Boston Globe if we connect the two stations? First, because it finally unifies the region’s rail system and will thereby attract thousands of additional riders who simply won’t use the current system which requires multiple transfers for many of them at North and South Stations. Second, because it will make it possible for us to run high speed trains in the Northeast Corridor to and through Boston to northern New England and Montreal.

And third – a point your piece totally misses – because the thousands of new passengers will produce approximately $120 million dollars a year in new passenger revenue and $80 million in maintenance savings. And that doesn’t even factor in the “value added” that will come from private leasing and development along the route, some portion of which can be captured as additional revenue.

Those combined funds will support a 20-year bond issue that can pay for the project. That is why it will be far easier to win public support for the project and why your column today totally misses this key point.

Incidentally, of course, it makes it unnecessary to spend the billions currently being planned for station expansion and millions more for a layover facility at Widett Circle with all that means for development at that site without the very costly infrastructure that would be necessary if the Link is not built.

Michael Dukakis, a professor at Northeastern University, is the former governor of Massachusetts and a longtime public transportation advocate.

Getting smart about transportation spending

Getting smart about transportation spending

Mass. taking big step forward with system that will score proposed projects

MAKING DECISIONS ABOUT transportation spending is a little like shopping for dinner at the supermarket. Chances are that you considered a number of factors before you got to the checkout counter. You consulted nutrition labels and compared prices. You planned around your family’s individual preferences and health needs and considered how foods would pair up.

If planning a meal can be complicated, just imagine drawing up a “shopping list” for a successful transportation system. Ideally, each project would come with the equivalent of a “nutrition facts” label that analyzed the costs and benefits, including how each project would affect local economies, jobs and education, climate change, and public health. With money as tight as it is, public officials should be comparison shopping – trying to find frugal solutions for transportation challenges.

Unfortunately, that is not quite how transportation planning works. In Massachusetts, as in most states, the transportation shopping list is driven as much by political considerations as substantive ones. It’s rare to see a rigorous comparison of project benefits based solely on merit.

But a great leap forward in transportation policy is quietly occurring in Massachusetts thanks to a new, smarter project evaluation system that will help state officials decide which projects are worthy of taxpayer dollars. Under a new set of criteria, proposed projects would be judged more objectively on their contributions to goals like safety, mobility, health, and cost-effectiveness.

For 18 months, the Project Selection Advisory Council – a group comprised of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and state transportation experts that was created under the 2013 transportation finance act – has been working under the radar to come up with better ways to evaluate transportation projects. Its recommendations may determine whether plans for passenger rail from Boston to Springfield and to the South Coast move ahead, or whether South Station expands and new interchanges on Interstate 495 and Route 128 get built.

Recently, the council presented its recommendations. While they don’t go as far as we’d like, they mark the first step in a transition to a new era of data-driven decision-making at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation – one with great potential benefits for the Commonwealth.

Here’s how the new system will work:  Each proposed project will be evaluated and scored on several measures, including cost effectiveness, economic impact, environmental and health effects, safety, and social equity.

Then the project will be categorized by whether it maintains existing infrastructure or adds capacity to our current state transportation network. Six categories of projects would be created: highway maintenance, highway capacity, MBTA maintenance, MBTA capacity, regional transit authority maintenance, and regional transit authority capacity. Road improvement projects will only be compared to other road proposals; MBTA projects will only be evaluated against other MBTA plans; and regional transit authority services will only be judged against other RTA projects.

MassDOT would then establish funding targets for each category and prioritize projects by score. The resulting plan would be evaluated to determine whether projects meet the state’s overall goals, such as keeping our transportation system well-maintained, ensuring safety, making it easier for people to get around, reducing air pollution, and mitigating climate change.

The council’s recommendations include several improvements to the current way of selecting projects. The safety and mobility of all transportation system users – not just motorists – will be taken into account when projects are evaluated.

Project costs will be tallied over their full lifespan, helping to ensure that Massachusetts does not wind up building things today that we can’t afford to maintain tomorrow.  Perhaps most importantly, the project evaluations will be made public before the decisions are finalized, providing a new level of transparency to one of the most mysterious areas of decision-making.

Nevertheless, while this new system is a marked improvement over how things are done now, the council’s recommendations miss the mark in two respects.

First, the council backed away from its earlier plan that would enable comparison of various types of transportation projects – allowing the benefits of, say, a transit project to be considered alongside those a proposed road project.  The council said that allowing direct comparisons of road and transit projects, for example, could have the effect of “potentially disadvantaging certain important project types – “important,” of course, being the kind of subjective judgment the new data-driven process was intended to eliminate. Other states, most notably Virginia, have adopted project evaluation processes that compare and contrast various types of transportation options. Massachusetts should do the same.

Second, the proposed scoring system gives the environmental, public health, and social equity impacts of projects relatively little weight, with those factors accounting for no more than 20 percent of the combined score.  Whether a project expands opportunities for lower-income children and adults isn’t even considered specifically in some categories. If Massachusetts is going to meet key goals in those areas, that has to change.

The Bay State is legally bound to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 80 percent by 2050. Because transportation infrastructure lasts for decades, every investment we make today must contribute toward meeting that mandate. Meanwhile, as Harvard’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter has pointed out, access to transportation is a prerequisite to help people to rise out of poverty. As state residents, particularly in the Gateway cities and rural areas, continue their quest for economic opportunity, transportation’s role in supporting economic advancement is critical.

To its credit, the council recognized that its criteria and processes aren’t perfect and has left the door open for further refinements. These faults aside, the release of the council’s project selection criteria is a big step toward ensuring that our public officials will be “smart shoppers” when it comes to making state transportation investments. MassDOT should continue to pursue better-informed transportation decision-making that furthers progress toward a cleaner, healthier, more prosperous, and more equitable Massachusetts.

Rafael Mares is a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. Maddie Ribble is director of public policy and campaign strategy at the Massachusetts Public Health Association.