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Where does the T go from here?

The cash-strapped MBTA has come under fire recently.Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

A former Massachusetts transportation secretary says the state should retire the bulk of the MBTA’s debt to let the T make the infrastructure repairs needed to improve service.

Jim Aloisi, an attorney who served as the state’s transportation chief under Gov. Deval Patrick in 2009, said the MBTA spends more than $400 million a year to pay debt-holders.

“It’s not sustainable,” he said.

T riders will tell you that. On Monday, MBTA General manager Beverly Scott said it will take 30 days for the transit system to recover from the snowpocalypse now burying Boston. Aging trains and track can’t take the cold, the ice or the salt. Signals break down, stations are crumbling and too few cars are carrying too many people.

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Scott herself is going out of service in April. She handed in her resignation last week.

State Sen. Thomas McGee, D-Lynn, is chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation. He said the T is $9 billion in debt with a logjam of $3 billion worth maintenance and repairs.

“Statewide, transportation investment has been lacking,” he told the Metro recently. “The key to the economy is making these infrastructure improvements. That’s a discussion we’ll have to have. The T is really challenged.”

Aloisi wants the state to assume both legacy debt and the T’s share of debt from the over-budget Big Dig, saving the agency $250 million annually.

“They could start to use that to make the repairs they need to make and you don’t have to raise a tax,” he said.

The state would have to look elsewhere to pay for the debt. “It doesn’t solve everything,” he conceded.

The Pioneer Institute, a conservative Boston-based think tank, wants to place the agency in receivership, strip the MBTA board of its power and place strict controls on hiring.

Without cash, new management can’t fix the MBTA said Aloisi. “It’s like hiring the best plumber but not giving him a toolbox,” he said.

And the short-term solution to the T’s woes?

“There’s a limit to what you can do in the very, very short-term,” he said. “You just have to depend on the good work of the good people who work at the T.”

Aloisi said he issued a report back in 2009 that showed the T system needed $3 billion in repairs. The fact that the T is antiquated is not new news, he said.

“The chickens have come home to roost,” he said.

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