T notes: Control board says goodbye, offers advice

GM: COVID-19 delaying production of new Red, Orange Line cars

THE FUTURE OF MBTA oversight entered an uncertain period on Monday, as the Fiscal and Management Control Board held the last meeting of its five-year life with no clarity  from the Legislature yet on whether a new board will be created to pick up where the old one left off.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said she was optimistic a new oversight board would be approved by the Legislature soon. The House and Senate have each passed provisions creating a new board, but their approaches differ in some key respects.

To give the Legislature some time to reach a compromise, Pollack said the next meeting of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board, which would take on oversight of the T if no special T board is created, will not be held until July 27.

During a joint meeting of the MassDOT board and the control board that lasted seven hours, members of the all-volunteer control board were praised for their work over the last five years and the members themselves offered some advice to whatever group replaces them.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said there was “overt skepticism” on Beacon Hill in 2015 to the idea of creating a special T oversight board, but she said the panel has put that skepticism to rest with its tireless work and dedication to transparency.

“The MBTA is a fundamentally sounder organization today than it was five years ago,” Pollack said.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation in a recent report also praised the work of the control board, but pointedly said the impact of COVID-19 has put the T in a worse financial position today than when it was formed in 2015 in the wake of a snowmageddon that shut the system down for days.

At the end of the meeting, each of the current members gave short speeches. Chrystal Kornegay said the board needs to spend more time addressing diversity at the T and the contractors who work for it. She read a statement offering advice to whatever board ends up assuming oversight of the T. She urged the members of that future board to ride the T regularly and put themselves in the shoes of the transit systems riders.

Joe Aiello, the chair of the board, paid tribute to Steve Poftak, who was one of the original control board members and is now the general manager of the T. “Steve, you’re blossoming into a strong and wise leader. Keep it up,” he said.

Monica Tibbits-Nutt, the vice chair of the board, noted that her time on the board has been bookmarked by crises – the snowmageddon of 2015 and COVID-19 in 2020.

Board member Brian Lang praised Gov. Charlie Baker for his courage in taking on the job of fixing the T, but he said the job may never get done unless Beacon Hill leaders have the courage to appropriate enough resources to transform the authority. He urged the future members of a T oversight board to use their positions to advocate for the proper level of resources.

Brian Shortsleeve, a board member who previously served as the T’s general manager, warned T officials to start preparing now for fiscal 2022, which begins July 1, 2021. He said the T will probably face a deficit that year of at least $400 million. He urged T officials and Beacon Hill lawmakers to address the T’s surging pension costs, which are expected to rise to $134 million this year, twice the level of five years ago.

“FY22’s going to be really tough,” he said. “Hope is not a strategy.”

Delays for new Red, Orange Line cars

Steve Poftak, the general manager of the MBTA, disclosed on Monday that the production and delivery of new Red and Orange Line cars is being delayed.

He didn’t go into detail about the length of the delays, but said “COVID-19 has played a factor in some of these delays.” He said CRRC, the manufacturer of the vehicles, has encountered delays as its factories in China and Springfield were forced to close due to COVID-19.

Riverside commercial development moving ahead

A major commercial and residential development at the MBTA’s Riverside Green Line station finally appears ready to move ahead.

A deal struck in 2009 with BH Normandy failed to gain traction when the developer failed to win support for a project big enough to finance off-site improvements as well as a new parking garage for the T. Mark Development joined the project as a partner and succeeded in boosting the size of the project from 588,000 square feet to more than 1 million square feet, according to Richard Henderson, the T’s chief real estate officer.

The project now calls for 582 apartments (103 affordable), 254,000 square feet of office space, a 150-room hotel, and 39,000 square feet of retail space marbled into a new 1,990-car garage. Nearly 960 of the spaces in the garage will be reserved for T commuters, the T will receive free office space in the office complex, and the developers plan to build a new access road into the area from Route 128. The T will also receive rent payments of more than $24.5 million over the course of the 85-year lease.

Defective lights, pavement being replaced

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board approved two contracts worth about $47 million to replace defective lights and pavement in the I-93 tunnels and access ramps in downtown Boston.

Jonathan Gulliver, the highway administrator, said the road surface material and the lighting were not as durable as expected. “In both of these cases, we’re correcting deficient work,” Gulliver said.

In response to a question from a board member, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said she didn’t know whether the state would be pursuing any funds from the original contractors. She noted the money for the work is coming partially from toll revenues and partly from money from legal settlements in connection with work on the Big Dig.

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.

MBTA capital spending hits $1.5 billion

The T set a goal of $1.4 billion in capital spending this fiscal year, but reached $1.5 billion as of last week.