Poftak: MBTA needs more capacity to meet spending goals

T plans to up yearly repair budget to $1.5 billion

MBTA OFFICIALS WHO have struggled to meet existing capital spending goals want to pour much more into upkeep and modernization projects, a goal that could fuel activists’ demands for more revenue for the system.

To spend $1.5 billion annually on state-of-good-repair projects, the T will need to boost its own operational capabilities, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said Monday at the weekly meeting of the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board.

“We clearly need additional capacity throughout the organization,” Poftak said. “We are currently under capacity. We are currently in a position where we have to triage projects at times because we do not have enough capacity.”

The T is hiring a chief of capital programs to take responsibility for the program, and it will also need to build up staffing for on-the-ground tasks such as flagging, and signal and power maintenance, Poftak said.

The T is on track to fall about $50 million short of its fiscal 2019 goal of spending $1 billion on capital projects, according to Poftak. In future years, the budgeted spending on capital projects drops even lower.

Under the existing capital plan, the T is due to spend roughly $2.3 billion on expansion and maintenance projects in fiscal 2021, but in fiscal 2023 that planned spending falls to $861 million.

“We have an out-year problem. We don’t have the stuff in the pipeline,” said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. “We need a capital program that ramps up to that steady state, billion and a half.”

Much of the future overall capital spending is for specific expansion projects – extending the Green Line trolley into Somerville and Medford, and extending a commuter rail line from Middleborough to New Bedford and Fall River.

Under the plan Poftak presented, spending on state-of-good-repair would reach $1.5 billion per year by fiscal 2024.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who has resisted calls for new taxes to finance the MBTA, has touted the transit agency’s plans to spend $8 billion in total capital spending over five years with existing revenues.

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Some members of the control board have agitated for more state revenues than the T already receives. Poftak was hired by Pollack, Baker’s transportation secretary, but he answers to the control board every week.

Three years ago, T officials identified a repair backlog that would cost $7.3 billion to fix and the T’s long-term capital plan aims to complete all that repairing and upgrading work by 2032. At next week’s control board meeting, Poftak will update the board on the T’s capital needs assessment.