Billions of billboards?

The MBTA failed to win friends or influence people with its plan to auction off billboard advertising rights in 60 locations in eastern Massachusetts. Predictably, some affected communities are seething. Leaving aside the issue of visual pollution along the state's highways and byways (Dan Grabauskas, how could you???), the plan is expected bring in the paltry sum of $6 million per year (that's paltry in MBTA terms) over the next two decades.

You'd think in these reform-before-revenue times, communities would be saluting this latest "we're- dancing-as-fast-as-we-can" effort to come up with cold, hard cash money. Guess not.

Meanwhile, over at the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, where life isn't any better, officials decided to team up with their poor cousins at the T to save $600,000 over at least the next three years by having the transit agency transport toll money to hopefully secure and undisclosed locations. The noise you hear is the sound of one hand clapping (and that's probably Alan LeBovidge's).

But wait, there's hope: This week, the Senate passed its reform-only, revenueless transportation reform package, the centerpiece of which is the mammoth merger plan, putting the MBTA, the RTAs, the turnpike authority, MassHighway, DCR roads and bridges, and the Tobin Bridge all together under one figurative roof. That move "has the potential" to save the Bay State about $6.5 billion over the next 20 years, according to Sen. Steven Baddour on his blog MassTrans for Tomorrow .

The transportation system's shortfall is actually about $20 billion over the next 20 years, but let's just leave that aside. 

"This is the most comprehensive transportation bill the Senate has seen in generations, and moving forward, I am confident that we will fully reform our transportation system, and gain the trust of the toll and taxpayers," said Baddour, the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation.

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Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

Going relatively unnoticed in the furor over the true cost of combining these agencies into a super-duper agency, slashing union benefits, etc., is the little matter of the new agency's taking on the T's debt ($8 billion) and the Turnpike's debt ($2 billion).

That's a lot of billboards.