T notes: Seeking transformation amid constraints
Transit plays minor role in Baker climate plan
THE MBTA’S Fiscal and Management Control Board heard a series of presentations on Monday about capital projects to transform the bus, subway, and commuter rail lines and the big takeaways were that the costs would be incredibly high and more managers are needed to oversee them.
MBTA officials detailed “transformation” projects for bus, commuter rail, and the Red, Orange, Green, and Blue subway lines. Many of the projects have already received significant investments, but all of them required what appeared to be billions more in the future.
Some talked about the need for new money, including $4.5 billion for new bus maintenance facilities, while others warned of shortfalls ahead. A presentation by Alistair Sawers, who oversees commuter rail transformation, warned of “potential cliffs” in 2030 for aging locomotives and 2035 for stations.
MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, a former member of the control board, said when he hears these types of presentations he wants to say yes to all of them. “That’s not the world we live in,” he said. “We’re going to think hard about how we fit all these things in and how we sequence and prioritize them. There’s going to be some constraints.”
Monday’s presentations also illustrated how some of the transformation projects are lacking leaders, a recurring problem at the T. Sawers is the only T official working on the commuter rail transformation. The bus transformation initiative, while it shares many people from across the T, has no single person in charge.
Monica Tibbits-Nutt, vice chair of the control board, said the bus transformation requires someone at the helm. “It’s a little perplexing that wer don’t have the head of this team,” she said. Poftak said he was in agreement, and would hire a new bus lead as soon as possible.
The exchange was similar to one last month between Joe Aiello, the chair of the control board, and Mike O’Dowd, the Department of Transportation project manager for the I-90 Allston interchange project. Aiello asked O’Dowd whether the $1.3 billion Allston project was the only one he was working on. O’Dowd said it was just one of many.
Transit plays minor role in Baker climate change plan
One of the Baker administration’s top climate change experts said public transit doesn’t figure prominently in the state’s roadmap for getting to net zero emissions by 2050.
David Ismay, the undersecretary for climate change in the Baker administration, told the Fiscal and Management Control Board that the administration’s modeling indicates shifting people from cars to public transit and reducing vehicle miles traveled do not yield significant emissions reductions.
“We didn’t find a lot of bulk benefit there,” Ismay said, in part because the time between now and 2050 is short and such initiatives would not yield enough bang for the buck.
Joe Aiello, the chair of the control board, said the T has set some broad decarbonization goals for 2040 and 2050 but no interim targets. He said he is worried about when to start the process, which will be very expensive. “We don’t turn on a dime like buying an electric vehicle,” he said.
Ismay said he didn’t have any advice. “I don’t know exactly,” he said.
Pollack says goodbye to control board
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said goodbye to the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday and insisted it’s not odd that a long-time transit advocate would be taking the No. 2 job at the Federal Highway Administration.
“It can be an agency that supports people rather than a singular mode of transportation,” she said.
Members of T staff and the control board praised Pollack, but a recurring theme in their remarks was their hope that Massachusetts could benefit from her new-found clout in Washington.“It’s very comforting to know we will have a friend in Washington,” said T General Manager Steve Poftak.
“It’s nice to know we will have an ally,” said Monica Tibbits-Nutt, vice chair of the board.