If You Were God... Transit & Infrastructure Sandbox

Stlin

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I don't really know where to put this, so I guess here?

I was sifting through both the pile of bills filled so far this legislative session and the "by request" bills filed last session - yes, I'm that bored at work today - don't, if you value your sanity - they include things like eliminating the placard requirement for handicapped spaces, but I like to see if any ever make it out of committee. As always a goodly number relate to transportation funding. Things like funding a transportation endowment trust fund, various taxes, special districts, etc. That got me thinking.

Is there a good example, in recent history of a public subscription of voluntary contributions towards a given public transportation infrastructure project? In much the same way all universities, colleges, and hospitals, both public and private, fundraise to support their endowments, various academic programs, and new buildings. It will never be the sole source of funding, but every bit helps. I can see a couple of mechanisms for doing this, and I would personally combine both.

1) An independent foundation, with targeted funds for major advocacy projects. Red/Blue, BLX, Green to Nubian / South, what have you. Basically, a independent fundraising body that serves as a cash lockbox for those major projects, invests those funds, and effectuates transfers to MassDOT. I'm basically thinking something along the lines of Wikipedia's "if everyone riding this train gave X, we can do Y" type pitches. Fundraising methods could also include, if the law allows for it;

2) Point of fare sale. "would you like to give x to help the MBTA build y?" Given the T had ~350 million annual trips pre-pandemic, if we assume very rosy numbers of 10% rounding up their fare by 10¢ to 2.50 and an additional 5% contribute 50¢ per trip, that would net the T ~15million a year in new capital sources.

This doesn't really compare to the multibillion dollar capital plan, as I think that ~20 million is overall probably a reasonable number. But over a multiyear horizon, it adds up pretty quickly, especially if you can get private investors who want to cash in quicker to chip in. Think landlords on the GLX route who would be able to raise rents once it opens, or institutions that would benefit from a given project. The Ts capital budget skews towards reliability and state of good repair, as it should. But that leaves relatively little money for expansion and improvements beyond the minimum.

Now, I don't think that this hypothetical group could lock away all its money for the major capital projects; its not a great look. Maybe 1/3 should be released for short term, highly visible projects like station brightening, funding new buses, etc? But 15 million a year would pay for Red/Blue in ~20 years, discounting investment returns, inflation and cost increases. Probably less, as the state would probably be loath to leave a large sum on the table. Since Charles/MGH was provisioned for it, it's already been 14 years.

Something similar would probably have paid for new trolleys on Ashmont HSL by now too. Presumably, a independent foundation could even build its own things, buy land, etc. as a private party and direct convey them to MassDOT afterwards. The biggest flaw I anticipate is that this would obviously net benefit high income areas disproportionally; however, the reduction of burden on the state should allow for it to focus on the EJ communities.
 
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JeffDowntown

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I don't really know where to put this, so I guess here?

I was sifting through both the pile of bills filled so far this legislative session and the "by request" bills filed last session - yes, I'm that bored at work today - don't, if you value your sanity - they include things like eliminating the placard requirement for handicapped spaces, but I like to see if any ever make it out of committee. As always a goodly number relate to transportation funding. Things like funding a transportation endowment trust fund, various taxes, special districts, etc. That got me thinking.

Is there a good example, in recent history of a public subscription of voluntary contributions towards a given public transportation infrastructure project? In much the same way all universities, colleges, and hospitals, both public and private, fundraise to support their endowments, various academic programs, and new buildings. It will never be the sole source of funding, but every bit helps. I can see a couple of mechanisms for doing this, and I would personally combine both.

1) An independent foundation, with targeted funds for major advocacy projects. Red/Blue, BLX, Green to Nubian / South, what have you. Basically, a independent fundraising body that serves as a cash lockbox for those major projects, invests those funds, and effectuates transfers to MassDOT. I'm basically thinking something along the lines of Wikipedia's "if everyone riding this train gave X, we can do Y" type pitches. Fundraising methods could also include, if the law allows for it;

2) Point of fare sale. "would you like to give x to help the MBTA build y?" Given the T had ~350 million annual trips pre-pandemic, if we assume very rosy numbers of 10% rounding up their fare by 10¢ to 2.50 and an additional 5% contribute 50¢ per trip, that would net the T ~15million a year in new capital sources.

This doesn't really compare to the multibillion dollar capital plan, as I think that ~20 million is overall probably a reasonable number. But over a multiyear horizon, it adds up pretty quickly, especially if you can get private investors who want to cash in quicker to chip in. Think landlords on the GLX route who would be able to raise rents once it opens. The Ts capital budget skews towards reliability and state of good repair, as it should. But that leaves relatively little money for expansion and improvements beyond the minimum.

Now, I don't think that this hypothetical group could lock away all its money for the major capital projects; its not a great look. Maybe 1/3 should be released for short term, highly visible projects like station brightening, funding new buses, etc? But 15 million a year would pay for Red/Blue in ~25 years, discounting inflation and cost increases. Probably less, as the state would probably be loath to leave a large sum on the table. Since Charles/MGH was provisioned for it, it's already been 14 years.

Something similar would probably have paid for new trolleys on Ashmont HSL by now too. Presumably, a independent foundation could even build its own things, buy land, etc. as a private party and direct convey them to MassDOT afterwards. The biggest flaw I anticipate is that this would obviously net benefit high income areas disproportionally; however, the reduction of burden on the state should allow for it to focus on the EJ communities.
An old model for this type of contribution was the public/private corporation. There is a public plan for the investment, which is what is to be funded. Some portion of the "ownership" of the resulting asset is sold as shares to to the private market, in exchange for specific rights in the resulting project. Most of the landfill projects around Boston in the 19th century were this type of corporation. (Public side got ownership of the roads in the fill land; private side got ownership of the rest of the land for development.)

What if, for example, Red-Blue connector was funded with such a Public-Private corporation. Shares could be sold to interested parties in exchange for T passes for employees for X years. I would bet MGH would be a possible investor in Red-Blue. There might be Kendall Square corporate investors as well.... Really thinking out loud here.
 

Stlin

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An old model for this type of contribution was the public/private corporation. There is a public plan for the investment, which is what is to be funded. Some portion of the "ownership" of the resulting asset is sold as shares to to the private market, in exchange for specific rights in the resulting project. Most of the landfill projects around Boston in the 19th century were this type of corporation. (Public side got ownership of the roads in the fill land; private side got ownership of the rest of the land for development.)

What if, for example, Red-Blue connector was funded with such a Public-Private corporation. Shares could be sold to interested parties in exchange for T passes for employees for X years. I would bet MGH would be a possible investor in Red-Blue. There might be Kendall Square corporate investors as well.... Really thinking out loud here.
I mean... P3 is still a thing, right. Assembly Sq T, Boston Landing... The issue I see with something like OLX, or Red/Blue is the lack of tangible "upside" for the investors; Assembly Sq T and Boston landing are private investors building a public good that they primarily derive benefit from, by way of increased valuation due to transit access where they control the bulk of the developable area served by said station. The same is likely going to be true by the time the throat is solved West Station is built and Harvard gets around to developing that area. The more minor headhouse and station renovations as a consequence of neighboring development is more of a quid pro quo to get building approvals. In your example case of landfill, they got the developable land, which comprised the bulk of the value compared to the roads and public ways. A major expansion program like OLX or Red/Blue has a very large area of influence and high expenses compared to an infill station, and relatively few tangible benefits for a private party to fully capture.

That said, There's the entire world of Build-Operate-Transfer like the UMass Boston Dorms, or Build-Lease-Transfer. While I don't think its really feasible to do a revenue split on whatever Red/Blue ridership turns out to be, you could definitely lease the tunnel to the MBTA for a defined return - but by the time you do that, I think the T is better served bonding it on its own, given the historically loss making nature of modern rapid transit. Those are really the only tangible "investment returns" I see being possible here, but I'm not sure it reaches to 250M+ vs the 15-20M That FRIT and New Balance put into Assembly and Boston Landing.

Otherwise, you're back to what I had above - MGH and the Kendall investors would just be interested parties willing to pony up some cash for a given capital project - just presumably more of it. That said, some "perks" for bigger investors/donors would be wholly within the realm of reason and good sense. Name-a-Bus, recognition plaques, wall of fame, employee transit passes...
 
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bakgwailo

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What is now the T basically started out as a public/private venture. The commuter rail basically still is (private ops, public everything else). I think if we are to look at anything it would be to try to copy the models from various systems in Japan, HK, etc., which have pretty proven models of success at this point. I don't know what an optional fare increase would really do, given that the cost of the fare already doesn't cover operating costs, and even a $20 million increase is rather a drop in the bucket for the MBTA's $2 billion+ budget. Don't get me wrong - every little bit counts, I guess, but that isn't going to do much for any capitol projects (let along even getting fares to break even).
 

cbrett

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I mean... P3 is still a thing, right. Assembly Sq T, Boston Landing... The issue I see with something like OLX, or Red/Blue is the lack of tangible "upside" for the investors; Assembly Sq T and Boston landing are private investors building a public good that they primarily derive benefit from, by way of increased valuation due to transit access where they control the bulk of the developable area served by said station. The same is likely going to be true by the time the throat is solved West Station is built and Harvard gets around to developing that area. The more minor headhouse and station renovations as a consequence of neighboring development is more of a quid pro quo to get building approvals. In your example case of landfill, they got the developable land, which comprised the bulk of the value compared to the roads and public ways. A major expansion program like OLX or Red/Blue has a very large area of influence and high expenses compared to an infill station, and relatively few tangible benefits for a private party to fully capture.

That said, There's the entire world of Build-Operate-Transfer like the UMass Boston Dorms, or Build-Lease-Transfer. While I don't think its really feasible to do a revenue split on whatever Red/Blue ridership turns out to be, you could definitely lease the tunnel to the MBTA for a defined return - but by the time you do that, I think the T is better served bonding it on its own, given the historically loss making nature of modern rapid transit. Those are really the only tangible "investment returns" I see being possible here, but I'm not sure it reaches to 250M+ vs the 15-20M That FRIT and New Balance put into Assembly and Boston Landing.

Otherwise, you're back to what I had above - MGH and the Kendall investors would just be interested parties willing to pony up some cash for a given capital project - just presumably more of it. That said, some "perks" for bigger investors/donors would be wholly within the realm of reason and good sense. Name-a-Bus, recognition plaques, wall of fame, employee transit passes...
If anyone is interested in it, I did a project on evaluating TOD potential along the commuter rail and could post those numbers. Idea was to see what dev potential of underutilized, CR adjacent land currently is, then see if buying and building on that land could offset the cost of things like Electrification and NSRL. Basically a crackpot attempt to bring the MTR in Hong Kong to the US, where development and transit have a more direct symbiotic relationship. (Better service = higher value of development, which funds and incentivizes better service)
 

stefal

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If anyone is interested in it, I did a project on evaluating TOD potential along the commuter rail and could post those numbers. Idea was to see what dev potential of underutilized, CR adjacent land currently is, then see if buying and building on that land could offset the cost of things like Electrification and NSRL. Basically a crackpot attempt to bring the MTR in Hong Kong to the US, where development and transit have a more direct symbiotic relationship. (Better service = higher value of development, which funds and incentivizes better service)
Very interested
 

DominusNovus

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A very conceptual/high level question:

Ignoring everything but population densities and distributions, what would be the furthest out it would make sense to build the colored lines of the MBTA? Not counting the buses (yellow) or any permutation of the commuter rail (indigo). Basically, if you had a complete do-over to build the Green, Red, Orange, and Blue lines from scratch and had an effectively unlimited construction budget, how far out would each go? Would it just be out to 128 in all directions, or would any towns further out make sense to connect into the core network? I threw a population density map in for reference.

 

F-Line to Dudley

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A very conceptual/high level question:

Ignoring everything but population densities and distributions, what would be the furthest out it would make sense to build the colored lines of the MBTA? Not counting the buses (yellow) or any permutation of the commuter rail (indigo). Basically, if you had a complete do-over to build the Green, Red, Orange, and Blue lines from scratch and had an effectively unlimited construction budget, how far out would each go? Would it just be out to 128 in all directions, or would any towns further out make sense to connect into the core network? I threw a population density map in for reference.

128 +/- stone's throw. Just about every red area on the map outside of there is served by either commuter rail or a landbanked former passenger RR line...and the existence of the passenger RR was the reason why the population grew that way. The outside-CBD population being contoured along the RR's means there's really nothing really requiring a major reverse-engineering...just increase the passenger RR frequencies across the board and return it to a few places where the trains were previously lost. You don't really need subways much outside the inner city core because linear ROW's are either available or generally can be cobbled together (with sliding-scale difficulty) outside the CBD, and only the areas of deepest reds closest to the City have the unbroken density where stop spacings of 1/4 to 1/2 mile are the norm and really need the rapid transiting because they'd gum up RR schedules too much at that density. Anywhere the reds are a little more broken-up in concentration where stop spacing can average ~1 mile give-or-take and there's more time-of-day variability in the loading is a better job for passenger RR executed at best modern practices.

Plus, the relative creature comforts. I don't think you'd want to sit in the lateral-mount cup seating of an LRT/HRT vehicle out to Framingham vs. the better cushioning and privacy of a Commuter Rail seat. Any more than real commuters would ever truly want to put up with 3x2 Commuter Rail seating all the way out to Springfield compared to the accommodations of an Amfleet. Each mode's livery aims at a certain distance/time range, and it starts getting downright uncomfortable to stretch the purpose to ridiculous ends.


I mean...we *did* have interurban trolleys in the first 2 decades of the 20th century attempting exactly that. Long-distance travel (albeit with frequent transfers) possible by the interconnecting trolley companies and the rural interurban mains connecting them. However, with extreme-rare exceptions (like the surviving South Shore Line out of Chicago...which terraformed itself into a commuter rail rather than going out of business) the longer-distance interurban routes were almost universally money-losers with poor ridership. Pretty much because unless it was a *very specific* trip not duplicated by the ample RR coverage in the region, it was slow and uncomfortable as hell. And only regularly used by a narrow demographic that *had* to make a longer-distance work trip but couldn't afford to punch RR tix all the time. For the most part the disproportionate size of the interurbans' buildouts by the 1910's-20's were fueled by a great big market bubble of investors drunkenly short-selling the holding companies...and the whole pyramid scheme collapsed in a heap when the party was over because the fundamentals of those lines and those companies were so godawful. So in spite of that former blurring-of-modes, today where local bus + rapid transit gives way to local commuter rail gives way to intercity rail or bus pretty much contours along the lines of where the actual farebox recovery was vs. what was pure stock Pyramid Scheme. The results today in a subsidized universe wouldn't be much different vs. where the ridership would go and where the loss leaders would be on the modes stretched too far for credulity.
 

Arlington

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I agree that almost everywhere in the USA the “10 Mile Ring” * ends up being the the natural boundary between inner rapid transit and outer “weekday commuter” service, and about for all the same time and land use reasons why the rings were built at that radius

*eg MA 128
Baltimore 695
Washington 495
Atlanta 285
DFW elongated loop
MSP twin cities loop


Washington Metro being an unusual commuter railway that happens to have a dense set of stops in the core
 
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bigeman312

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A very conceptual/high level question:

Ignoring everything but population densities and distributions, what would be the furthest out it would make sense to build the colored lines of the MBTA? Not counting the buses (yellow) or any permutation of the commuter rail (indigo). Basically, if you had a complete do-over to build the Green, Red, Orange, and Blue lines from scratch and had an effectively unlimited construction budget, how far out would each go? Would it just be out to 128 in all directions, or would any towns further out make sense to connect into the core network? I threw a population density map in for reference.
I love this question and I'm going to interpret it super literally and pick the furthest out point (from Downtown Crossing as the crow flies) that I'd build to "if I was an omnipotent being."

I spent too much time than I'd care to admit coming up with a rock-solid answer and it turns out 128ish is correct.

The answer I came up with: Danvers.

Blue Line to Danvers via Salem is the furthest I can honestly justify.
 

mass88

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Build a large, modern international airport at the junction of 93/95 in Canton/Westwood with enough space to have it be capable of handling 85-90 million passengers annually via terminal and runway expansions over time. Have it serve as the defacto airport for the Boston, Worcester and Providence metro areas. Express trains run the from the airport to Providence, Warwick, Plymouth, Worcester, Back Bay, South Station, Waltham, Framingham, Woburn, Salem, Fall River, Lowell, and Norwell. These express trains would be built under existing highways via tunnels - fast, clean and reliable.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Build a large, modern international airport at the junction of 93/95 in Canton/Westwood with enough space to have it be capable of handling 85-90 million passengers annually via terminal and runway expansions over time. Have it serve as the defacto airport for the Boston, Worcester and Providence metro areas. Express trains run the from the airport to Providence, Warwick, Plymouth, Worcester, Back Bay, South Station, Waltham, Framingham, Woburn, Salem, Fall River, Lowell, and Norwell. These express trains would be built under existing highways via tunnels - fast, clean and reliable.
Where do all the NIMBY's in a 10-mile radius get resettled to beforehand?
 

ra84970

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I agree that almost everywhere in the USA the “10 Mile Ring” * ends up being the the natural boundary between inner rapid transit and outer “weekday commuter” service, and about for all the same time and land use reasons why the rings were built at that radius

*eg MA 128
Baltimore 695
Washington 495
Atlanta 285
DFW elongated loop
MSP twin cities loop


Washington Metro being an unusual commuter railway that happens to have a dense set of stops in the core
LA doesn't really fit that unipolar model.
 

bigeman312

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I always thought that if I was going to relocate thousands of people for a perfectly-sited, massive, suburban airport, with great highway and rail access, I’d choose Littleton/Boxborough.
 

Stlin

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I always thought that if I was going to relocate thousands of people for a perfectly-sited, massive, suburban airport, with great highway and rail access, I’d choose Littleton/Boxborough.
You'd want to force everyone coming out of Boston proper through the concord rotary and rt 2? (Though, that would guarantee the expeditious removal of it and the signalized intersections)

Westborough/Hopkington though? 95 and 90, serving Worcester, Providence and Boston...
 

bigeman312

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I assumed full upgrade of Route 2 to interstate standards from Fitchburg to Alewife, as well as plenty of additional capacity along the Fitchburg Line.

But I do like Westborough/Hopkinton, too.
 

NoShJFK

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Lurked for a long time. have had some ideas that I think are reasonable but with the costs and political will are probably more crazy.

I’ll post the remaining either all at once or in parts depending upon reception of this idea:

It was inspired by my time the other night out with the girlfriend and friends in the Seaport. I went to college in the city and know it in and out but I hardly ever did anything in the seaport other than graduate at the pavilion. Well frankly what they’ve done with the seaport is nothing short of breath taking - especially the area near fan pier blvd and seaport blvd. and when I looked up and saw the T entrance I realized - that’s for a bus. That area is so up and coming and full of buisness and entertainment andresidential that it’s criminal there’s no rail there.

So my proposal brings fast and efficient rail to the least served part of the city: South Boston and then brings fast MODERN LRT (similar to LA’s) as opposed to the archaic version we have now (think more TRAIN and less Trolley) to the Seaport District, connects it with downtown - gives another route through the backbay and modernizes what was the Green Lines B route


The Silver Line (Phase 1)

(Cost; $5B; entire project subway: $7B)



L Street (intersection Broadway & L)

*Tunnel follows L street*


(Drydock & MP Haul)

World Trade Center

Seaport (current Courthouse)

South Station (RL)

*Follows Essex St to Boylston*

Theater (GL) (OL)

between Chinatown & Boylston)

Arlington (GL)

*Travels immediately to Comm Ave (subway)*

*Follows Comm Ave (Subway)*


Exeter

Mass Ave

Kenmore (GL) (BL “D”)

*Then follows B line path (at grade)*

*grade separated with underpasses or traffic signals*


Boston University Central

Packards Corner

Alston St


*Stops at mega station at Clev. Circle*

Cleveland Circle (GL) (BL)

*Line turns left into BC campus*

*station adjacent to Alumni St garage
*

Boston College / Alumni Stadium

Optional for tunnel or at grade. If at grade NO more grade crossings. Line entirely grade separated. At crucial intersection line goes under new overpass and back to street level (Chestnut Hill Ave, Colborne etc)


NOTE: IMAGE shows ststions POST-Kenmore at every location there is currently a “B” station. That was a mistake. Intent of proposal is for spaced out stations roughly a mile apart (BU C, Packards, Alston, Cleveland, BC)
 

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HenryAlan

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LA doesn't really fit that unipolar model.
Yeah, L.A. has a very different topography than most cities in that it completely fills a geographically constrained basin, with very little outside of that area, but contained within it are multiple large CBDs. The freeway system there reflects this in its lattice-like appearance, as did the old Pacific-Electric network. The modern MTA rail network, both as it is now, and as it will be 15-30 years from now also follows the lattice design.
 

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