MBTA to double capital spending

Authority plans to quicken bid process, tap unused funds

MBTA OFFICIALS SAY they want to overhaul the process and change the culture at the agency to ramp up spending on capital projects after once again finishing the year without using all the funds available to address the aging equipment and infrastructure that breaks down and causes delays regardless of the season.

“We believe we can run the system, and we can fix the system, and we can do them both faster than we’ve done it in the past, and safely for our workers and our riders,” Pollack said at a meeting with reporters to discuss the agency’s five-year capital spending plan. “But doing that is complicated and requires a level of coordination, organization and resources that have not previously been hardwired into the MBTA. And we’re going to hardwire them into the MBTA.”

Pollack, Acting General Manager Brian Shortsleeve, and COO Jeff Gonneville laid out an ambitious plan to spend between $850 million and $950 million this fiscal year on upgrading and replacing equipment and infrastructure as well as construction projects such as the Green Line Extension. They said the plan is to increase spending each year until it totals $6.5 billion, an average of $1.3 billion a year, to try to pare down the more than $7.3 billion in backlogged repairs.

“This capital plan forecasts a doubling in spending,” Shortsleeve said. “So the total program of $6.5 billion over the next five fiscal years is more than twice what the T has historically invested.”

The plan comes as the final numbers for fiscal 2016 show the MBTA spent $743 million – just 71 percent – of its capital spending budget. If it hits the $900 million projection for the current fiscal year, that will be a 59 percent increase. Nearly half of this year’s capital budget will be spent on so-called revenue vehicles, such as Green Line, Orange Line and Red Line cars and buses.

“The key to improving the rider experience for our 600,000 commuters every day is rebuilding the system, and that means really significant capital improvement,” said Shortsleeve.

Pollack said the spending would be spilt roughly 80-20 between what she described as “priority 1 and priority 2,” which are reliability and modernization, and expansion such as the Green Line extension and the commuter rail extension in Fitchburg.

“That’s really where the focus is,” she said. “We’ve got to get up to that $765 million and then keep it up year after year after year or every year what’s happening is as many assets as we’re fixing the same number are falling out of a state of good repair and you’re sort of in a steady state.”

Joanne Aalto, the capital director for the MBTA, told members of the Fiscal and Management Control Board that part of the problem has been the byzantine procurement system the agency has worked with. Aalto said under current guidelines, it can take two years or more from soliciting bids to signing a contract before construction can even begin. “The process, frankly, takes too long,” she told the board.

Aalto said one of the goals in the revamped spending plan is to cut the time down to 60 to 90 days from bid to award.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

Pollack said money is not the obstacle, noting there are funds remaining from prior years, and she said there would be no need to go to the Legislature for authorization for more.

“We do not need to find the $6.5 billion,” she said. “We need to spend the $6.5 billion.”