MBTA repair backlog more than doubled to $6.7 billion since '09 - Metro US

MBTA repair backlog more than doubled to $6.7 billion since ’09

Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

(State House News Service) — Bringing the MBTA system into a state of good repair would cost a “daunting” $6.7 billion, state transportation officials disclosed at a meeting Tuesday.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said she wants more information on why the state of good repair backlog increased from $3.1 billion in 2009.

“Didn’t you whittle it down in the past five years with the amount you were spending?” Pollack asked at the Department of Transportation board’s Audit and Finance Committee. She said, “It’s a pretty daunting set of numbers to imagine a viable spend-rate.”

Pollack told the News Service she believes the “numbers back in 2009 were incomplete” and the state has “not been budgeting enough each year to eliminate the backlog.”

“The third piece that I do not yet know the answer to is: In the capital plans that the T laid out, was that money actually spent? Did the contracts go out and the work get done? And that is something that seems to be a little bit harder to track down, but the T has been very cooperative,” Pollack said.

The total replacement value for everything in the state-of-good-repair database is $21.6 billion and on average the system is in good repair, Robert Guptill, the manager of system integration, told the committee. The database is missing data on track, signals and power, according to MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo, and Guptill said the state is seeking more granular data. Guptill said a subsequent report would detail the amount needed to be spent annually to eliminate the backlog.

“We’ve been spending $400-$450 million a year on state-of-good-repair projects, which means if we actually spent that money say for each of the last five years we’ve put $2 billion into reducing the state of good repair backlog,” Pollack said. She said over the past half-decade, “We’ve planned to spend two to three billion dollars and the backlog has risen from $3.1 billion to $6.7 billion, which to me sounds like it actually was as high as $8.7 billion and then we spent $2 billion, or we didn’t really spend the $2 billion that was in the capital plan.”

MassDOT board member Janice Loux specifically questioned whether $25 million in upgrades to Red and Orange line vehicles was completed, and questioned the T’s snow response.

“Were we using the jet snow-blowers that we had or were they rusting in the Arborway Yard? Were we running snow trains like we always have done when storms start? Why didn’t we just run subway cars like we’ve done in the Blizzard of ’78,” Loux asked reporters after the meeting. She said, “If I thought they were done I wouldn’t be asking the questions.”

Information about repair needs will be used to develop the capital plans for the MBTA and MassDOT.

Pollack said she doesn’t know whether the Red and Orange line upgrades were accomplished, and she said the T’s capital plan will likely be public in April. That plan will “focus specifically to make sure the T’s ready for next winter,” she said.

The expensive price-tag for bringing the current system into good working order was detailed as early construction is underway on the long-awaited, partially federally funded $2.3 billion Green Line Extension project. The state is also in the planning stage for South Cast Rail, a commuter rail extension long-sought by officials in New Bedford and Fall River and championed by former Gov. Deval Patrick.

Some officials have suggested the state should curtail expansion projects to focus greater attention on maintaining the current system.

Pollack said South Coast Rail and other MBTA projects are included in the MassDOT capital budget, which is usually released in July.

“We’re going to have to sort out what the needs are,” Pollack told the News Service. She told the committee, “If you don’t invest enough to get rid of the whole backlog it just gets bigger.”

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