S. Coast Rail oversight shifted from T to state
E-ZPass update, Gulf Oil deal, T deficit at $126m
MASSACHUSETTS OFFICIALS on Monday shifted oversight of the South Coast Rail commuter rail project from the MBTA to the state Transportation Department and said they are now analyzing two route options through Middleborough that would allow service to Boston to start in as little as six to seven years.
The officials said the Transportation Department is assuming oversight of the project to take pressure off the T, which is struggling to improve existing service and extend the Green Line into Medford and Somerville. The officials said no decision has been made on whether to proceed with commuter rail service between Boston and the South Coast, even though $158 million has already been spent on the project.
South Coast Rail became a question mark in June, when state officials said the consensus route to Fall River and New Bedford from the terminus of the Stoughton commuter rail line would cost $1 billion more than initially projected ($3.4 billion versus $2.23 billion) and not be completed until 2029. As the Stoughton option has faded, Baker administration officials have suggested running service to Fall River and New Bedford from the terminus of the Middleborough line. The officials said that approach would take six to seven years to complete at far less cost, but it would mean fewer trains could operate on a daily basis.
The trip itself would also take longer on the Middleborough line. Officials said this summer that the trip to Boston via the Stoughton line would take 77 minutes. A presentation on Monday said the trip via Middleborough would take 105 minutes. Officials said bus trips take 2 to 2.5 hours.
Neither of the Middleborough options would add more trains to the line to improve service. To add more trains, a pinch point on the Middleborough line at Savin Hill in Dorchester would have to be addressed, which could involve putting an additional train track underground.
4 of 5 tolls paid with E-ZPass
Transportation officials said the state’s new all-electronic tolling system handled nearly 28 million transactions between the time it switched on at 10 p.m. on Oct. 28 and Friday at 8 a.m., with four of every five drivers making payments using E-ZPass and the rest through a pay-by-plate system.
Drivers pay a premium if they don’t use E-ZPass, and state officials are hoping more will obtain transponders in the coming months to make fare collections easier. Those using the pay-by-plate system during the first six months of electronic tolling will be given the option of paying the E-ZPass rate if they install a transponder. “We’ve made it very easy for them to switch,” said Stephen Collins, the director of tolling.
Overall, 81.3 percent of drivers on the Pike used E-ZPass to pay their tolls since Oct. 28. The percentage of drivers using E-ZPass rises to 85 percent on weekdays, Collins said, and hits 90 percent in some areas such as Framingham.
Since Aug. 22, Collins said 214,000 transponders have been issued free of charge to motorists.
Gulf wins new contract at Pike plazas
Gulf Oil agreed to pay an estimated $84.2 million over the next nine years to continue operating the gas pumps at 11 service plazas along the Massachusetts Turnpike.
Gulf beat out four other bidders to retain the lucrative concession. The company agreed to make basic lease payments to the state and also remit 17 cents of the price of every gallon of gasoline sold on the Pike.
Under the terms of its new contract, Gulf will donate $200,000 to the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism and also agreed to find space for six electric vehicle charging stations.
T deficit pegged at $126mThe MBTA’s oversight board said the agency’s structural deficit for the current fiscal year is currently forecasted at $126 million and a variety of measures are being considered to reduce its size, including the elimination of heavily subsidized services and increasing parking revenue.
Steven Poftak, the vice chairman of the Fiscal Management and Control Board, said the deficit has ballooned in size because of lower-than-expected revenue from the state’s lagging sales tax and higher costs associated with commuter rail service.