T notes: Payroll finally getting back to 2015 levels

MIT paying $22m for new Kendall T entrance

THE MBTA PAYROLL is slowly returning to the staffing level it was at in fiscal 2015, at the start of the Baker administration.

According to figures presented to the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday, the number of employees at the T in fiscal 2020 is projected to hit 5,987, just nine less than what it was in fiscal 2015.

In the intervening years, the number of employees rose to a high of 6,142 in fiscal 2016 and then plunged to a low of 5,559 in fiscal 2018, the year a voluntary retirement incentive program was implemented. The staffing level reached 5,747 in fiscal 2019, the first year out of the last five that the agency hired more workers than it lost through attrition, either due to voluntary or involuntary separations.

The lack of workers has been a drag on the organization, preventing progress on a number of fronts. Now, as the T workforce returns to 2015 levels and attempts to expand, agency officials are trying to understand how the new hires will affect the transit authority’s operating budget, particularly in terms of wage, pension, and health care costs.

David Panagore, the T’s chief administrative officer, said the T is currently forecasting that the number of employees will rise to 6,415 by 2025, but that number will probably need to go higher because it doesn’t include a number of initiatives that the T is working on, including what may be a dramatic expansion of the commuter rail system and a rollout of a new safety organization at the agency.

The biggest increase in operating staff by 2025 is expected to come with the Green Line extension to Somerville and Medford, which will require an estimated 144 additional workers. Panagore estimated 111 new hires will be needed by 2025 to backfill employee losses prompted by the new Paid Medical and Family Leave law. He also said the adoption of a new fare collection system will require 80 new workers and Red and Orange Line improvements will necessitate 45 new workers.

The Legislature has separately authorized an additional $50 million in funding for the hiring of some 200 workers to fill a number of crucial positions at the T over the next two years.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack questioned the accuracy of the figures related to backfilling projected employee losses due to the Paid Medical and Family Leave Act. She said she was not aware of another state agency making such dire forecasts. “To me this is a management challenge,” she said.

Steve Poftak, the T’s general manager, said the forecast is based on past heavy use by T employees of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Pollack also questioned the need for 144 new workers for the Green Line extension – 48 for transportation services and 96 for maintenance. She said she was most surprised at the maintenance estimate. “You’re basically hiring a new rail maintenance person for each vehicle” on the Green Line extension, she said.

MIT to pay $22m for new Kendall headhouse

To allow for university redevelopment in the area, MIT agreed to spend $22 million to build a new, more fashionable entrance for the inbound Kendall Square station.

The university agreed to build an interim headhouse that will be used while the new entrance is being constructed, complete with two elevators, two staircases, an escalator, and a glass canopy over the station. MIT also agreed to handle snow and ice removal at the station and clean the glass canopy at least once a year at a cost of $36,000.

Official: Thumbs up for Soldier’s Field Road bypass

The state’s current plan for replacing the elevated section of the Massachusetts Turnpike near Boston University calls for rebuilding the Pike at grade level and elevating Soldier’s Field Road above it. To make room for all that road relocation, state transportation officials want to temporarily run Soldier’s Field Road out over the Charles River during the construction period.

No one thought putting a structure out over the Charles would sit well with the river’s many enthusiasts, but Mike O’Dowd, the project manager, says the idea has been well received by boating groups and others who regularly use the Charles.

“There is no reason all the current activities on the river couldn’t continue during construction,” O’Dowd said.

Salvucci issues warning on airport

Former state transportation secretary Fred Salvucci warned on Monday that Logan International Airport needs a lot more transportation capacity.

In remarks to the state’s two transportation boards, Salvucci offered a tweak of the design of gthe North South Rail Link as one way of relieving congestion at the airport. Instead of running two tracks in each direction north to south, Salvucci suggested having one track in each direction running north-south and one track in each direction headed to the airport. He said the additional rail link to the airport is needed to relieve congestion.

“The airport is actually going to choke without more capacity,” he said.

Mass. eyeing control of Cape Cod bridges

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the state would be open to taking control of newly built Cape Cod bridges once the $1 billion federal construction project is completed.

“It’s on the table, but no final conclusion has been reached,” Pollack said, noting that any decision on transferring the new Bourne and Sagamore bridges to Massachusetts control would have to be made by the Army Corps of Engineers.

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.

The federal agency, which is seeking more than $1 billion in funding to build new bridges adjacent to the existing ones, operates and maintains relatively few bridges across the nation. Massachusetts officials said it might make sense for the state to take control of the new bridges once they are completed and handle maintenance as they would for other bridges across the state. Pollack noted the two bridges are currently a key part of the state’s transportation infrastructure over which the state has no control, a fact that she says often keeps her up at night.