T board wary of expansion proposals

Pilot service projects on hold until evaluation policy developed

THE MEMBERS OF THE MBTA’S oversight board indicated on Monday that they are extremely wary of expanding service at a time when so much work remains on improving the quality of existing operations.

The concerns surfaced at the Fiscal and Management Control Board’s weekly meeting during a discussion about how to evaluate pilot projects to expand service.  As a staffer sought guidance from board members on how they want to evaluate pilot proposals, it quickly became apparent that the board members were skeptical of any service expansion unless the benefits were clear.

Four pilot project proposals are currently pending before the MBTA. Two deal with commuter rail service – one extending regular, daily service on the Fairmount Line to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough and the other extending commuter rail service from the Middleboro-Lakeville line to Bourne on Cape Cod. The other two pilot proposals would test year-round ferry service between Lynn and Boston and overnight bus service across Greater Boston.

Board member Steve Poftak raised concerns about analyzing all of the costs associated with a service expansion. Board chairman Joseph Aiello also had cost concerns; in addition, he wanted information on past agreements between the T and sponsors of the pilot proposals.

Board member Monica Tibbits-Nutt said she wanted to make sure that service expansion proposals were compared against each other so that everyone would be aware that service expansion in one area could mean a project elsewhere could not be pursued. For example, she was wary of expanding commuter rail service to new destinations at a time when many inner city bus routes are not working well. “There are tradeoffs here,” she said.

Tibbetts-Nutt at one point said she wasn’t in favor of any sort of rail expansion because rail is “insanely expensive.”

David Mohler, director of the state Transportation Department’s planning department, recommended that the board have MBTA staff develop guidelines for assessing pilot projects but in the meantime move ahead with evaluating the existing pilot proposals. There was even a suggestion that one of the pilots – perhaps commuter rail service to Foxborough or overnight bus service – could be approved in February before the guidelines are completed.

Board member Lisa Calise said she was not in favor of moving ahead witof Norfolembers nodded their heads in agreement, Calise said: “We all seem to be pulling in the same direction with our concerns.”

The Foxborough proposal, which is being pushed by Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, seemed to be on a fast track toward approval in February until the board put the brakes on the entire process.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

During the public comment period of the meeting, Republican Rep. Shawn Dooley of Norfolk criticized the proposed train to Gillette Stadium, saying Foxborough doesn’t need commuter rail service because it is surrounded by communities that already have T service. Dooley, who represents communities opposed to the new train service, said the Foxborough proposal would be little more than a “private train station” for Kraft and his retail operations near Gillette Stadium.

“This should not be subsidized by the taxpayers,” Dooley said.