T notes: Capital spending reaches $1b

Foxboro commuter rail pilot schedule set

THE MBTA SPENT more than $1 billion on capital projects in fiscal 2019 – about $50 million more than the transit authority’s goal for the year.

The good news was partially self-induced, as T General Manager Steve Poftak scaled back the agency’s capital spending plans in May, saying they were “infeasible to execute.” He lowered the goal for fiscal 2019, which ended June 30, from $1 billion to $950 million, but announced on Tuesday at a special meeting of the Fiscal and Management Control Board that the original target had been met.

Despite the uptick in spending, Poftak said the T isn’t changing its $8.2 billion spending goal for the next five years, although he indicated the agency would strive to spend more money faster.

Joseph Aiello, the chair of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, said the increase in capital spending, accompanied by sharp upticks in contract awards (which are a key indicator of future capital spending), were tremendous news.

“Wow to the staff,” he said. “This is a great milestone.”

The T is currently planning to spend $8.2 billion over the next five years, but it has funding sources equal to $9.4 billion. CommonWealth recently highlighted the $1.2 billion in available funding and asked readers for their opinions on how it should be spent. T officials, however, say that, on paper, all of the extra $1.2 billion is spoken for, but they also acknowledged the money is fungible.

State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said after the Red Line derailment in June that a portion of the money was available to the T if the agency needed it.  Aiello has also called for using $50 million of the $1.2 billion to promote bus infrastructure.

T unveils schedule for Foxboro pilot

MBTA officials unveiled their proposed schedule for pilot commuter rail service between South Station and Foxboro, with times designed to encourage commuting in both directions.

The service, which is scheduled to start in late October, calls for roughly hour-long inbound trips arriving at South Station at 6:52 a.m., 8:24 a.m., and 9:16 a.m. and similar-length trips going in the reverse direction to Foxboro arriving at 7 a.m., 8:05 a.m., and 9:39 a.m. The last departures, which could be important to people working restaurant/service industry jobs, leave at 8:15 p.m. and 10 p.m. from South Station and 7:40 p.m. and 9:50 p.m. from Foxboro.

The annual cost to operate the pilot service is $1.68 million, with the Kraft Group, the owner of Patriot Place, kicking in an estimated $645,000 and also allowing the T to collect parking revenue estimated at $180,000.

The Foxboro pilot will use the same tracks as the Fairmount and Franklin lines and share some trains with the Fairmount line. Advocates for the Fairmount line, which runs from Readville to South Station, have expressed concern that commuters from Foxboro could pack trains and leave no space for regular users of the Fairmount Line. Members of the control board pressed T officials to monitor the crowding situation closely and take steps (including reserving passenger cars for Fairmount line passengers) should the need arise.

Growing state revenues boost T funding

Meet the Author

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.

With state revenues surging, the Legislature’s budget for fiscal 2020 assumes sales tax growth that will steer another $23 million to the MBTA. T General Manager Steve Poftak said he didn’t know how the money would be used.

The T’s current budget for fiscal 2020 is balanced using $37.5 million of a $180 million legislative appropriation for the transit authority.