MassDOT to get FAST cash

No one is rending their garments quite yet, but there is much gnashing of teeth at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. The MBTA is trapped in a black hole of fiscal despair. Each new revelation about the Green Line Extension cost overruns magnifies the authority’s distress.

On the highway department front, the tolls that Western Massachusetts drivers hoped would be coming down are staying put to pay for maintenance to prevent the roads from getting any worse than they already are. A massive 2008 bridge repair program that reduced the number of structurally deficient spans is scheduled to end next year — with more than 400 bridges still in need of repair. And so on.

Enter US Rep. Michael Capuano, the only New England representative on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, with a right-on-time announcement of major transportation dollars for Massachusetts: $5 billion in transit and highway funding. That’s a nearly $450 million increase, close to 10 percent over current levels, according to Capuano.

It’s part of five-year, $305 billion surface transportation package known by the catchy acronym FAST, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act. The legislation is an accomplishment that should not be remarkable, but is given Washington gridlock.The last time Congress passed comparable multi-year transportation legislation was a decade ago.

The bill “provides some much needed stability for states and municipalities,” Capuano said in a statement. “Transportation funding has been subject to dozens of short-term extensions over the past several years, creating uncertainty in long-term planning. With passage of the conference report, Massachusetts and other states will now know how much federal money they can expect over the next five years.”

The House and the Senate need to pass the bill by Friday or come up with another short-term extension. New Speaker of the House Paul Ryan appears to have accomplished a major Republican cat-herding feat and expects “very good majority support on the measure.”

If President Obama gets to put his John Hancock on the legislation, the Bay State cash dash will begin in earnest. When it comes to transportation, state officials tend to think in billions. The new dollars could help plug a few potholes and shore up more than a few bridges.

But the biggest problem facing MassDOT is what to do about the Green Line Extension catastrophe. Count on state transportation officials trying to figure out how to leverage some of those new federal dollars to paper over what has become another epic embarrassment for the MBTA.

GABRIELLE GURLEY

BEACON HILL

Kristen Lepore, the governor’s secretary of administration and finance, says the state will save close to $190 million this year from its early retirement initiative. (MassLive)

An Eagle-Tribune editorial, riffing off a recent Standard & Poor’s cautionary statement about Massachusetts finances, accused state lawmakers of “spending like there’s no tomorrow.”

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Brockton Planning Board gave its approval for a proposed controversial power plant that has the backing of the mayor but is ardently opposed by the City Council. (The Enterprise)

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera reopens a firehouse that had been closed five years. The closed firehouse was one of the concerns cited by groups seeking to recall the mayor. (Eagle-Tribune)

A Sun editorial embraces the notion of making Lowell’s smokestacks the city’s signature holiday feature.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The US House votes to block President Obama’s climate rules for power plants. (Time)

ELECTIONS

In a New Hampshire appearance, Donald Trump continues to hammer away at the charge — which has been widely refuted — that there was widespread celebration of the 9/11 attacks among Muslims in New Jersey. (Boston Herald) Try as they might — and they are trying real hard — no reporter has been able to run down the purported TV video Trump claims to have seen and those sources he has cited say the actual report was quite different from Trump’s retelling. (New York Times)

Marco Rubio may be gaining in New Hampshire primary polls, but he lacks a robust ground operation in the Granite State. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Compensation for members of corporate boards is soaring, with members of some boards now earning more than $1 million a year for a few hours of work per week. Corporate board compensation has skyrocketed at a time when wages for average American workers have stalled, the Globe reports in the first of what it says will be an occasional series titled “The Board Game.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, in an open letter to their one-week-old daughter, pledged to give away 99 percent of their fortune, estimated at $45 billion. (New York Times) Here is the letter, on Facebook, of course.

Massachusetts property tax revenues rose 4.1 percent last year, the largest increase in five years as home values continue to recover from the recession. (Patriot Ledger)

Attorney General Maura Healey says two big Massachusetts insurers took advantage of last winter’s historic snowfall and other recent storms to raise premiums by more than is warranted. (Boston Globe)

Boston Redevelopment Authority director Brian Golden says the city is “struggling to arrive at a consensus” with Don Chiofaro over the redevelopment of the Harbor Garage on Boston’s waterfront. (Boston Globe)

A stretch of Dorchester Avenue in South Boston could become the next focus of city planning efforts, with a mix of retail and residential redevelopment being envisioned. (Boston Globe)

The Yahoo board of directors is planning to discuss selling off the Internet giant’s core business holdings as well as its valuable stake in the Chinese web behemoth Alibaba. (New York Times)

Experts say the strong November job growth report released Wednesday is likely to spur the first interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve since June of 2006. (U.S. News & World Report) 

EDUCATION

A gay man is suing Fontbonne Academy in Milton for discrimination after he says officials at the Catholic girls prep school rescinded a job offer to run the school’s food services when they saw he put his husband down as an emergency contact. (WCVB)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A new study suggests the benchmark for cesarean deliveries should be 19 percent of all births. The rate varies widely across the world; in the US, the average is 32.2 percent. (WBUR)

A Brockton man is the first to undergo groundbreaking knee surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, receiving a meniscus transplant to replace the torn one that had been removed years ago. (WCVB)

A judge has ruled a needle exchange program in Hyannis run by the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod can remain open until the group’s suit against Barnstable officials is settled at trial or before. (Cape Cod Times)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA refuses to release the full report of a consultant hired to find out what went wrong with the contract for the Green Line extension. The transit agency says the report is “attorney-client privileged.” (CommonWealth) A Boston Herald editorial dubs the budget-busting Green Line project “The Big Dig redux.”

The House’s transportation expert, Rep. William Straus, floats a plan to raise money for transit lines by tapping the growth in property taxes in the area. (State House News)

Jim Aloisi and Charles Chieppo talk about the MBTA’s winter preparedness with Jim Braude. (WGBH)

State Auditor Suzanne Bump says the Department of Transportation botched a bridge project in Gloucester, causing multi-year delays and wasting $2.6 million. (Gloucester Times)

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick came to Boston on Tuesday and here are takes on what he said from CommonWealth, WBUR, and the Boston Globe.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

With Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey fighting over whether new natural gas pipelines into New England are needed, the region’s power grid operator says it has sufficient supplies of electricity lined up for this winter. (CommonWealth)

National Grid lowers the price it charges its 900,000 Massachusetts customers for natural gas. (Associated Press)

A new report says the “clean energy sector” represents 3.2 percent of the state’s workforce. (State House News)

Scot Lehigh isn’t too taken with the state’s strategy for reducing overpopulation of deer in the Blue Hills: “shooting half-tame animals before you’ve at least tried other methods.” (Boston Globe)

Bourne selectmen have approved taking legal action to try to halt construction of four wind turbines over the town line in Plymouth because Bourne health officials claim they will have a negative effect on that town’s residents and some homeowners say it will be an eyesore. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Some parent activists and school police leaders say Boston Mayor Marty Walsh should not push too hard in training Boston teachers try to identify signs of gang affiliation among their students. (Boston Herald)

The lawyers representing Philip Chism, who is accused of brutally murdering his teacher in Salem, begin trying to humanize him and showcase a history of mental illness in his family. (Salem News)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fires his police chief after one of his officers is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of a black teenager. (Governing) The Illinois attorney general asks for a federal probe of the police department. (Time) Emanuel appoints former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick to a panel that will review the practices of the city’s police department. (State House News)

MEDIA

An “overwhelming majority” of staffers at the Huffington Post sign on in support of forming a union. (Poynter)
Bill Burt of the Eagle-Tribune speculates that the Red Sox signing of David Price could mean John Henry is preparing to sell the club and focus on his other pursuits, including running the Boston Globe.