Politics

Here’s how the $11 billion infrastructure bill could improve the MBTA

The agency stands to receive $400 million in the proposed legislation.

The MBTA's Green Line B branch closed for 12 days in June to upgrade the tracks and install new safety equipment. David L Ryan/Globe Staff
Beacon Hill & the MBTA:

A bill to borrow and spend $11.3 billion to upgrade Massachusetts’ transportation infrastructure is anticipated to head to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk, with $400 million set aside for the MBTA to make needed safety improvements.

Transportation Committee House Chair state Rep. William Straus said the sum would cover several of the “disturbing” issues concerning the public transit system the committee learned of during its oversight investigation into the agency, according to the State House News Service.

That probe comes amidst a near-unprecedented safety review of the MBTA by the Federal Transit Administration, following several safety problems this year alone, including in May, when a man was dragged to his death by a Red Line train.

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The bond bill emerged on Sunday afternoon, as lawmakers scrambled to pass then-still-pending legislation by the end of the legislative session, including the legalization of sports betting in the Bay State. Debate went into the early morning hours on Monday.

Once the House and Senate take final procedural votes, the infrastructure bill will head to Gov. Charlie Baker, who will have 10 days to sign or veto the legislation.

According to the News Service, Straus said in addition to the safety funding, the bill also spells out requirements aimed at making the T more transparent about the safety problems it’s facing.

For example, under the current version of the bill, the MBTA must send any safety-related report that it must provide to federal regulators to the state inspector general’s office as well. The inspector general will then make the reports publicly available online, the News Service reports.

The bill would also increase how often the MBTA completes select safety reports.

Additionally, state Sen. Brendan Crighton, a co-chair of the Transportation Committee, said the bill would mandate that the MBTA complete a three-year safety improvement plan and publicly report open job positions and new hires over each month.

According to the News Service, the bill contains language geared toward launching a mobility pricing commission as well. The commission would make recommendations on subjects such as public transit pricing and congestion pricing for roadways.

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“This will make our transportation infrastructure more accessible, safe and equitable for all the residents of the commonwealth,” Crighton said.

However, despite its inclusion in a prior infrastructure proposal in the 2019-2020 legislative session, a mandate for the MBTA to create a low-income fare program was not included in the latest package, leaving advocates frustrated, the News Service reports.

“At a time of worsening income inequality, surging costs for housing and everyday essentials, and diminished MBTA service, it is deeply disappointing that the final transportation bond bill relegates a low-income fare program to long-term study,” the Transit is Essential coalition said in a statement. “The legislature, which passed a similar low-income fare provision at the end of the last session, has missed an opportunity to provide immediate and meaningful relief to thousands of low-income transit riders across the state.”

Notably, the bill also, if passed, would toss $275 million toward creating East-West Rail that would bring commuter rail service to cities and towns in western Massachusetts communities, such as Springfield.

Baker, in a statement on Sunday evening, said he was reviewing the bill and was happy with certain components within it.

In February, the Baker Administration introduced its own $9.5 billion infrastructure bond bill, which included calls for investments in new MBTA vehicles and facilities.

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“We are grateful that the Legislature has reached a compromise to invest billions into the Commonwealth’s roads, bridges and public transportation system,” Baker said. “While I will carefully review the final bill that reaches my desk, I am pleased that it appears this bill contains many of the proposals our Administration included in our MassTRAC legislation that we filed several months ago.”

Straus said the bill targets some of the problems his committee has already learned about. So far, the committee has held one hearing.

“There will be more as the committee continues, but as a result of the oversight process initiated by the speaker and Senate president, there are important changes in this bill already and no doubt there will be more,” Straus said.

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