Massachusetts’ $16.5 billion transportation bond bill, recently signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker, will support rail, bus and roadway improvement initiatives. The new law earmarks funds for the South Coast Rail, Green Line Extension and East-West rail projects, among others.
Gov. Baker approved most elements of the bill—H-5248, an Act Authorizing and Accelerating Transportation Investment—but vetoed others, such as requiring the 15 regional transit authorities to study “means-tested fares” and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to offer a low-income fare program, State House News Service reported.
In a letter to legislators, Gov. Baker wrote: “‘More study is needed to understand how transit authorities can implement fare systems that depend on gathering information about riders’ incomes and to understand what the revenue loss would be and how that revenue would be replaced,’” the news service reported. “‘No means-tested fares can be implemented until the MBTA and RTAs have a financially sustainable plan in place to replace the lost revenue.’”
The new law provides $3 billion for “transit system modernization.” According to the news service, this covers: “MBTA bus and Green Line upgrades, electrification of sections of the Fairmount and Stoughton commuter rail lines, and extending the Blue Line to the Charles/MGH Station on the Red Line.”
Additionally, the South Coast Rail project will receive $825 million; phase one is expanding commuter rail service on the Middleborough Secondary Line to New Bedford, Fall River and Taunton by 2023. The Green Line Extension project will receive $595 million. It will extend the northern end of the Green Line from Lechmere to Union Square in Somerville and College Avenue in Medford; work is expected to be completed in December.
According to MassLive.com, $50 million is set aside for planning, design, engineering and construction of the proposed East-West rail project, which would provide passenger rail service from Pittsfield to Boston.
Gov. Baker also vetoed a separate bill (H-5185), requiring MBTA to “use federal funding to restore spending on capital projects and reverse a package of service cuts its board approved in December,” the State House News Service reported.
He wrote in a letter to lawmakers, according to the news service: “‘I agree that the MBTA should evaluate and deploy additional funding that becomes available, including federal funding, to support sufficient base service levels and—when ridership and revenue so justify—begin to restore service that has been reduced and capital projects that have been delayed. The amended language sent back by the legislature, however, does not give the [MBTA’s] Fiscal Management and Control Board the latitude it needs to decide on how and when to deploy federal funds.”
In other news, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA), recently awarded MBTA $1 million for improvements to North Wilmington Station on the Haverhill Commuter Rail Line; MBTA is one of five commuter rail agencies sharing $40.26 million in grants for highway/rail grade crossing improvements.