Baker sketches plan for $9.5b in fed infrastructure spending
State also hoping to tap a portion of $110b in grant funding
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Thursday laid out in broad strokes his plan for spending $9.5 billion in federal infrastructure money, which the state is expected to receive over the next five years.
Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November, which will distribute massive sums of money for roads, bridges, and transit throughout the country.
Baker’s plan for spending the money will not concentrate on a few transformative projects but rather involves a meticulous distribution to hundreds of highway, culvert, bridge, rail, and other projects from one end of the state to another.
“For those of us in the infrastructure business, today is like Christmas,” Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver said at a press conference at UMass Lowell. “This law will touch every corner of the Commonwealth over the next five years.”
While Baker has authority to put the federal money to use, most of the spending requires state matching dollars, which must be appropriated legislatively. Baker plans to introduce a transportation bond bill in the coming weeks, once the federal government publishes guidelines for the infrastructure spending, which would allocate the state money. The Legislature has to approve the bond bill, which gives lawmakers a fair amount of power over the process.
Baker held a press conference to announce his funding plan in Lowell, because it is near the Rourke Bridge, a “temporary” bridge that was built in 1983 and never replaced. The $170 million project to build a permanent bridge is one of 146 bridge projects representing 181 structures statewide that the Baker administration hopes to fund with $3 billion in federal money for bridges over the next five years. “You have a very interesting definition of the word temporary,” Baker quipped, calling the replacement project “long overdue.”
The federal bill also contains $110 billion in grant funding that states can compete for, and Baker said officials have been laying the groundwork since the summer by staffing up the transportation department and planning projects so Massachusetts can compete for the discretionary funding. The replacement of the bridges to Cape Cod and the Allston I-90 multi-modal projects, for example, are likely to seek funding through these competitive grant processes.
According to state figures, the Department of Transportation will get $5.4 billion in highway funds, and much of it will go to existing programs. MassDOT published lists of 71 projects that could be funded this fiscal year, and 375 projects queued up for the next five years, including local road repairs, bridge fixes, and pedestrian enhancements. These are often relatively minor projects with local impact, like extending the Ashuwillticook Trail in Adams or reconstructing Rutherford Avenue in Boston.
There is $1.4 billion for new programs that the state will develop, including a new bridge funding formula and programs aimed at resiliency, carbon reduction, electric vehicle infrastructure, and ferry boats and terminals.
The MBTA will get a whopping $2.2 billion over five years, while Regional Transit Authorities can expect $591 million. The money is specifically for capital projects.
For the MBTA, the money means replacing the Green Line fleet and buying 80 electric buses. It means repairing and expanding stations and maintenance yards like the Quincy bus facility, fixing bridges and tunnels, and upgrading signals on the Red and Orange lines. A lot of the money will go toward projects the MBTA is already planning, though there will be some money available for new projects. For example, competitive grant funding could be obtained to electrify more of the system, create dedicated bus lanes, make stations more accessible, and replace commuter rail vehicles.
Massachusetts will get $1.4 billion for environmental infrastructure, which includes things like water and sewer projects. Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides said she hopes Massachusetts can finally eliminate sewage overflows into the Merrimack River, while also fixing many of the state’s failing culverts.
“This is a game changer for the type of work we need to do to target climate change,” Theoharides said.Rick Dimino, president and CEO of the transportation advocacy group A Better City, said he thinks the money “has a chance to set the stage to leverage transformative opportunities in the state.”
Dimino said money for structurally deficient bridges can address years of overdue maintenance, while electrifying the bus fleet will transform surface transportation while decarbonizing the system. He said the federal funding, particularly the competitive grant programs, could be “a point of pivot to move from simply focusing on state of good repair, which continually needs to be addressed, but also to start looking at transit enhancements and expansion.”