T notes: Pay-to-play on transportation projects

T notes: Pay-to-play on transportation projects

Mattapan trolleys: Money pit or wise investment?

STATE TRANSPORTATION OFFICIALS say they will increasingly look to third parties to financially support expansion initiatives.

A policy memo released on Monday at the Fiscal and Management Control Board meeting said the state will look to municipalities, institutions, private entities, land owners, and others to contribute resources to support expansion projects that benefit them.

“Under present practice, none of these benefits are harnessed to help pay for such locally beneficial expansion projects, despite sometimes enormous financial commitments by the Commonwealth,” the memo said.

One recent exception was the extension of the Green Line into Somerville and Medford. When the project faltered because of skyrocketing costs, Somerville and Cambridge were enlisted to provide financial support for the extension. Similarly, pilot expansion projects at the T have also benefited from outside financial support. The Kraft Group, for example, put up significant money to win approval for pilot commuter rail service between South Station and Foxborough; a project for overnight bus service is still awaiting approval, in part because it has no outside financial support.

The memo said cooperation agreements in the future may include special assessment districts, staff time, land, construction help, and the implementation of policies that help the state reach other goals related to housing, economic development, and the environment.

“Where appropriate, MassDOT and the MBTA will make stakeholder contributions an element of project prioritization,” the memo said. “However, this policy will not and should not be used to exclude or deprioritize important projects in low-income communities or other situations in which project stakeholders are unable to contribute resources to projects.”

Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the control board, said he would like to see the memo take a broader view of benefits to seek financial support from much larger geographical areas. He noted many MBTA projects have an impact in the immediate surrounding area, but many transportation projects, such as a bridge expansion, can benefit an entire region of the state.

The memo is expected to come up for approval next week at a joint meeting of the MassDOT and MBTA boards.

Trolleys: Money pit or wise investment?

State officials are preparing to spend $7.9 million on the Mattapan trolleys to keep them going long enough to have a broader debate about whether even more money should be invested in the problem-plagued, 1940s-era train cars.

Jeffrey Gonneville, the deputy general manager of the MBTA, said the sputtering trolley line was shut down all last week because of power fluctuations that knocked out four train cars. The cause of the power fluctuations wasn’t tracked down and fixed until the end of the week.

The T resumed service on Monday with four trolleys and one spare. Gonneville said four damaged trolleys will be raided to produce two working trolleys by this summer. Then the T plans to spend $7.9 million to bring eight cars into service and make them last another five to six years. He said the first refurbished trolley should be finished by the summer of 2019 and the last by the end of that year.

While the repair work goes on, Gonneville said, the T plans to launch a public process to decide whether far more money should be spent to improve and modernize the trolleys, which run between the Red Line’s Ashmont Station and Mattapan Square. A consultant’s report is expected to lay out various options in the next few months for the museum-quality trolleys.

MBTA ridership declining at slower rate

Ridership on the MBTA is continuing to decline but at a slower pace than it had been, an MBTA official said on Monday.

Laurel Paget-Seekins, director of research and analysis at the T, said the 12-month rolling average of subway ridership is off 3 percent from January 2014, 12.9 percent on Saturdays, and 7.9 percent on Sundays. Bus ridership was off 7.2 percent weekdays, 12.4 percent Saturdays, and 6.5 percent Sundays.

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.

Ridership was down during peak periods, but the downturn was most pronounced off-peak, Paget-Seekins said.

The Blue Line was the one exception, with ridership up at both peak and off-peak periods. The more heavily used Red Line, by contrast, was up 2.8 percent during the peak travel period but down 5.3 percent off peak.