T notes: New phenomenon – GLX leftover money

New T board completes business in 64 minutes

AS COMPLETION of the Green Line extension approaches, it’s prompting a rare discussion at the MBTA – what to do with all the leftover money.

Five years ago the project extending the Green Line to Somerville and Medford almost didn’t get built because the budget had ballooned from $2 billion to more than $3 billion. After paring back the cost to $2.3 billion, the T now finds itself five years later with a project that’s 85 percent complete, all of the “risk-exposing milestones” achieved, and the prospect of having more than $200 million left over when the work is completed.

The T isn’t saying precisely how much money will be left over when construction is finished, but there are some clues. Earlier this year, an extra $103.6 million was earmarked in the American Rescue Plan for the Green Line extension. The T also says it has “significant contingency funds” remaining in the overall Green Line extension budget, but won’t say how much. Earlier this year, however, a T document referenced $200 million set aside for contingencies, a sum that was likely reduced when the transit authority negotiated an $80 million settlement in June with its contractor resolving all existing change orders and disputes over COVID supply-chain delays.

The MBTA board on Wednesday started disposing of some of that extra money, voting to return all of the money that Somerville and Cambridge provided to the project when its future looked iffy. Somerville pledged $50 million and Cambridge $25 million, and so far have paid in $30 million and $15 million, respectively.

Under the terms of its deal with Somerville and Cambridge, the T pledged to return their contributions if money was left over once the project is completed. With work not scheduled to end until May, the T plans to return the cities’ unspent money, plus interest, and refund any funds already spent, making the municipalities whole.

Barring any unforeseen costs, that would leave the T with about $175 million when the project is completed.

Quick meetings: The MBTA board’s monthly meeting on Wednesday lasted 64 minutes and covered one major topic before the seven members shifted to executive session. It’s a far cry from the predecessor Fiscal and Management Control Board, which seemed to rarely meet for less than three hours at a time.

Vaccine mandate: MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said 13 employees, or .21 percent of the workforce, are not in compliance with the transit authority’s vaccine requirement and facing disciplinary action. Poftak said 8.8 percent of the workforce has requested a health or religious exemption.

Commuter rail recovering: Long a laggard in ridership after COVID struck, the commuter rail system is slowly making a comeback. Poftak said the commuter rail system has recovered about 45 percent of its pre-pandemic ridership, putting it nearly on a par with the Red, Orange, and Green subway lines. Bus remains the most popular mode at about 70 percent of pre-pandemic passenger levels, followed by the Blue Line at 65 percent.

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.

Employee shortage: During the T’s first quarter, the agency took in more fare revenue than it expected even though ridership remained well below pre-pandemic levels. The T also spent less money than it expected in some areas, but not always by design. Its spending on wages and benefits, for example, came in at $199.7 million instead of the budgeted amount of $224.4 million.

Poftak said spending nearly $25 million less than planned on wages and benefits was “not a strategic choice.” He said the lower spending level reflects the scarcity of available workers. “We are struggling to attract the workforce we wish to hire,” he said.