Gov. Baker pushes $18 billion transportation spending bill

George_Apley

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Another framing from Commonwealth Mag. Excerpts below.

Baker, Legislature at odds on transportation funding
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER and the Legislature are at odds on how much money is needed to fix the state’s ailing transportation infrastructure.

Baker appeared before the Legislature’s Transportation Committee on Tuesday, highlighting a series of major investments his administration has already made and a long list of others he wants to fund with an $18 billion bond bill. More than $10 billion would go for roads and bridges, $5.7 billion to the MBTA, $50 million to address transportation bottlenecks across the state, and $50 million for tax credits to promote telecommuting.

“I think it’s important to stress here, this capital plan, and the massive growth in activity it entails, can be completely executed with the funding that is currently available,” Baker told the lawmakers. “I know this is counterintuitive to argue at a bond bill hearing, but funding is actually the easiest part of the critical paths we face.”
The big number is getting headlines, but let's be honest, this is not the transformative vision that we've been waiting for. $5.7B for the MBTA? Call me when they propose a total bond of close to $20B for transit.

Straus and Boncore appear to be in sync, and they say the leaders of their two chambers are also on the same page when it comes to the need for additional transportation revenues, which would leave Baker as the odd man out. Straus is working with two other members of Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership team on a transportation bill the House is expected to take up before the branches recess for this year.

Both Straus and Boncore appear to be leaning toward an increase in the gas tax, and possibly other revenue-raising measures as well. Both are wary of waiting for the revenue from the carbon fee on automobile fuels.
Compare this to the Deval Patrick vs DeLeo calculus where the Guv wanted more revenues and the legislature shot it down. Now it's flipped. The legislature is ready to talk new revenues. The governor, true to form, is playing accounting tricks to avoid talking about new revenues (carbon fee aside). How about talking about transformative reform like vehicle miles traveled replacing the gas tax?

As big as Baker’s bond bill is, it doesn’t include funding sources for a number of projects and initiatives. Initial seed money is available for such projects as connecting the Red and Blue lines and overhauling the commuter rail system, but long-term funding hasn’t been identified.
So the pressure needs to be kept on... BLX is a must have.
 

whittle

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It is the single project that would, however, directly effect the majority of citizens in the state.
Maintaining our current infrastructure is the most important we can do infrastructure wise. Failing to back an effort to do so because it doesn't meet all our purity tests does not do anything helpful.
 

bakgwailo

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Maintaining our current infrastructure is the most important we can do infrastructure wise. Failing to back an effort to do so because it doesn't meet all our purity tests does not do anything helpful.
Or we can chew gum while we walk and be able to do maintence and capital projects at the same time. As for purity tests - I was merely responding to the NSRL is probably the biggest bang for the buck and helps the most people statewide of all of the capital projects on the table.
 

Massachoicetts

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This is a big deal.... but I agree $20 Billion ATLEAST for the MBTA. The roads are desperate as MA is ranked #44 for Infrastructure. Its getting worse and you know its bad when NJ and NY have better infra. than us.
 

mass88

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This is a big deal.... but I agree $20 Billion ATLEAST for the MBTA. The roads are desperate as MA is ranked #44 for Infrastructure. Its getting worse and you know its bad when NJ and NY have better infra. than us.
A good portion of the road issues stem from poor design and layout. Just look at how bad some key interchanges are in this state - 93/95 in Canton, 93/95 in Woburn, 24/93 in Randolph are some prime examples. I am not suggesting the state turns things into say Atlanta, or Houston with 14 lane freeways. But rebuilding and modestly widening some key interchanges and stretches could very well help make things run a bit smoother.

Of course billions going to transit is even better to give the metro area faster, or more reliable service to entice people off of the road and onto a bus/train.
 

stick n move

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What I meant by nsrl/electrification or gtfo is that population and job projections show that our infrastructure will not be able to handle the upcoming demand where were not only already over capacity now, but in the not too distant future the region is going to grind to a halt and stagnate. We absolutely need a good state of repair, and it should be a given, but that is not going to be enough. Thats why we need bold decision making now. Its great to see that were spending, but its not enough so we cant settle. Repairs are great and necessary, but they wont mean much when everything is at 200% capacity in 10 years.. thats why nsrl/electrification or gtfo..
 

Coyote137

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Wanting to simply do maintenance if nothing else is fine if our standard is mediocrity at best. We should have a higher bar than that, regardless of the governor's need to be seen as Mr. Fiscal Responsibility.
 

jklo

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Wanting to simply do maintenance if nothing else is fine if our standard is mediocrity at best. We should have a higher bar than that, regardless of the governor's need to be seen as Mr. Fiscal Responsibility.
The #1 question of course is where you would get the money for all this, especially when the Federal Government is so damn broke.

As long as Boston has what Employers want, Boston will be fine. It's not like there are a lot of other cities in the US that even have a mass transit system.
 

George_Apley

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The federal government isn’t broke until the price of treasury bonds increases untenably. The interest rate on T-Bills remains quite low, meaning the cost of US debt is quite low. Granted, it could all come crashing down if we make some bad political choices (debt ceiling related). Right now our debt load is problematic and concerning, but it’s not wrecking our functionality because it’s still considered safe by the global economy.

Employers will stay for a while no matter how bad it gets because of their sunk cost. Saying that “Boston will be fine“ because employers aren’t leaving is a non sequitur. If people are unable to get around our increasingly clogged metro area that translates into billions of lost economic activity. As gridlock worsens, that loss worsens. Eventually it will damage Boston’s ability to grow.
 
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Rover

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But where are all of these traffic-less cities that are full of jobs is what I think the question is. No doubt we need to improve our transit. However, have the people claiming jobs are about to go elsewhere ever driven in NYC, DC, Atlanta, etc? Conversely its relatively easy to drive through Hartford but that hasn't helped CT stop hemorrhaging jobs.
 

HenryAlan

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Very much this:
The federal government isn’t broke until the price of treasury bonds increases untenably. The interest rate on T-Bills remains quite low, meaning the cost of US debt is quite low. Granted, it could all come crashing down if we make some bad political choices (debt ceiling related). Right now our debt los is problematic and concerning, but it’s not wrecking our functionality because it’s still considered safe by the global economy.
The inability of our government to spend money on transportation isn't about economics, it's about politics. We choose not to spend it in that fashion, but we could easily redirect resources with the political will behind doing so. The war in Afghanistan could have paid for hundreds of Big Dig level infrastructure projects, just as an example.
Employers will stay for a while nk matter how bad it gets because of their sunk cost. Saying that “Boston will be fine“ because employers aren’t leaving is a non sequitur. If people are unable to get around our increasingly clogged metro area that translates into billions of lost economic activity. As gridlock worsens, that loss worsens. Eventually it will damage Boston’s ability to grow.
While this is true, I think we also need to consider that employers are probably using more metrics in their analysis than whether or not the city is congested. A lot of people find the congestion in Boston an acceptable trade-off for the manifest benefits of being here. That goes for both employees and employers. Boston is also somewhat unique due to the significant influence wielded by our academic institutions. Harvard, BU, MIT, these places aren't going anywhere, and the extent to which it benefits an industry to co-locate with leading academic research centers, we'll always have a strong and vibrant economy. We'll also figure out how to fix congestion eventually. We know some of the tools now, we haven't yet figured out the political part.
 

George_Apley

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While this is true, I think we also need to consider that employers are probably using more metrics in their analysis than whether or not the city is congested. A lot of people find the congestion in Boston an acceptable trade-off for the manifest benefits of being here. That goes for both employees and employers. Boston is also somewhat unique due to the significant influence wielded by our academic institutions. Harvard, BU, MIT, these places aren't going anywhere, and the extent to which it benefits an industry to co-locate with leading academic research centers, we'll always have a strong and vibrant economy. We'll also figure out how to fix congestion eventually. We know some of the tools now, we haven't yet figured out the political part.
Absolutely. I just think that those other metrics will eventually be overcome by the congestion problem. The universities and the industries they attract definitely insulate Boston from trends in the broader economy (see 2008). The Boston economy can survive (albeit strained) by the ever-growing housing costs because it’s more about displacement, which the economy doesn’t care about. I pointed out congestion because I think it is the one thing that can’t be easily worked around or turned into a positive. It requires massive political and investment. And if it gets worse and worse with no evident changes in the right direction, Boston’s built in advantages start to weigh less and less.
 

Coyote137

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It's also not just about the overall economy - it's about equity, jobs access, healthcare access, local pollution reduction, carbon pollution reduction, and so on. It's asinine to say that you have climate goals while being unwilling to invest in the transit system beyond modest improvements that serve primarily political ends (e.g., South Coast Rail, SSX).
 

HelloBostonHi

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What's with the idea that SSX is a purely political move? The studies I've seen show a need for SSX regardless of whether NSRL is built or not if you're trying to operate urban rail + Amtrak. Hundreds of trains still need to terminate at South Station in any scenario, even a quad track NSRL (unlikely) can't handle even half the traffic proposed for South Station.
 

Tallguy

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Not even close. TransitMatters has shown that SS could handle many more trains if the T would get its thumb out of its @$$ and learn from the many cities that have rationalized their stub end terminals.
 

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