Fixing the MBTA will now cost more than $7 billion

MBTA leaders also want to know what went wrong with the Green Line extension cost increases.

The MBTA is deep in the hole when it comes to its repair backlog.
The MBTA is deep in the hole when it comes to its repair backlog. –AP

The cost to get the MBTA up to snuff is higher than previously estimated.

It would require at least $7.3 billion of work to bring it to a state of good repair, according to a presentation at a Monday meeting of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board. That’s up from an estimated $6.7 billion estimate earlier this year.

The increase is a result of a closer look at the system’s inventory, including more data about individual assets and previously unincluded assets. The costs to improve tracks and passenger service vehicles saw the highest estimate increases since the winter.


At the $7.3 billion price, the T would need to spend $765 million per year to eliminate the backlog in the next quarter-century. If it spent $472 million per year, the backlog would remain consistent over the next 25 years, according to the presentation.

Fixes to the subway account for 44 percent of the costs.

The control board was formed in July after Gov. Charlie Baker pushed for its creation throughout the spring as a way to address the T’s financial issues after repeated snowstorms exposed some of the system’s weaknesses last winter. The board has been tasked, in part, with establishing 5-year and 20-year plans for capital costs, which include state of good repair expenses.

Separately on Monday, members of the control board said they want to take a long, hard look at what went wrong with the planned Green Line extension cost estimates, which were recently found to be up to $1 billion over budget.

Board members discussed hiring a consultant to take a deep dive into how costs escalated to their new estimate of $2.7 billion to $3 billion. Transportation leaders have said multiple options to address the issue are on the table—and that canceling the project is one of them.

Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the board, suggested the consultant could look into a number of factors that may have led costs to fall out of control. For example, he said, he would like to learn details about how and why T leaders chose to use a complex procurement method to find the project’s general contractor.


“We decided to use an innovative construction method, procurement method,’’ he said. “Did we perform a formal risk assessment to make sure that tool was the best fit for this particular project? If that was the best fit for this particular project—this is a pretty complicated procurement device—did we adequately train our staff to make sure they knew how to use that tool?’’

Aiello also said he is curious about the extent to which management kept costs in mind as Green Line plans developed. As an example, he used the planning for the new stations in Somerville and Medford.

“Was anybody playing the role of defensive back and saying, ‘Hey, guess what, that just drove the cost of this particular station up by $30 million. You can’t do it unless I have an offset someplace else,’’’ he said.

A consultant’s report would be an important tool for the control board when making decisions related to the project, said board member Monica Tibbits-Nutt.

“We need to have a better understanding of how we got here, because I don’t think, at least for the public, we can justify any decision going forward without giving them a full explanation of how we got here in the first place.’’

Brian Lang, another member of the board, said the project could be useful not just for the T, but for other agencies—including the Federal Transit Administration, which offered grant money for the project based on the previous estimate.

“One of the things I’m perplexed by is that, this was vetted by federal agencies and a number of different agencies,’’ he said. “It’s mindblowing to me that so many could have looked at it and said, ‘Yeah, this makes sense, the numbers line up,’ and for it to go so far off. … It could be useful for many agencies to take a look at this.’’


State Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack said her office would begin the process of finding a consultant.

The MBTA’s winter weather woes of 2014

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