The Massachusetts Council took a big step Thursday toward pumping billions into work on state transportation and environmental infrastructure, sending the Senate a rewritten borrowing law that includes hundreds of millions of dollars to fix the MBTA’s glaring safety issues and railroad exploration. Expansion into western Massachusetts.
The House voted 155-0 in favor of the nearly $11 billion infrastructure bond bill (H.4897) after approving a massive amendment that addressed about $560 million in additional spending, mostly made up of domestic appropriations, plus new reporting requirements for MBTA caught up in a violent federal investigation.
Rep. William Strauss, co-chair of the Transportation Committee, described the legislation as the “signed transfer bill bill for this session.”
After the governor’s 11th hour veto eliminated the last hearing’s legislative push to demand that low-income wages be introduced via the MBTA, the House decided not to pass again on the issue.
East Boston Representative Adrian Maduro introduced an amendment that would have ordered T to launch a free or reduced transit fare program for all eligible low-income riders, roughly similar to language that both the House and Senate approved in the final hours of the 2019-legislation session for 2020, but representatives quietly ditched the proposal to delete it from the only uniform amendment.
Instead, the bill calls for the creation of a “mobility pricing commission” that would examine congestion pricing — a practice in which road tolls go up or down depending on traffic conditions to spur off-peak travel — and public transportation pricing. This group’s work will investigate “tested price feasibility” as well as occupant expectations and emissions impacts, and report by July 1, 2023.
“It is disappointing that the House of Representatives chose to exclude from the final transport bond bill a low-income fare program that would help thousands of those burdened by transportation costs and the high cost of gasoline, has been shown to increase the number of transit passengers, and is supported by more than 80 percent of people across the Commonwealth,” the Transit is Essential Alliance said. “More than 90 percent of low-income MBTA contestants do not qualify for the current limited-income fare programs—for youth and seniors. This current system is simply unfair. We will vigorously advocate for a low-income fare program as the bill moves to the Senate.”
The House’s choice of low-income wages may create friction between the branches if and when legislative leaders send the Basic Law bill to conference committee negotiations.
Senate Speaker Karen Špilka, who will soon be presenting her chamber and discussing her version of the infrastructure bond bill, said Tuesday she was disappointed by Governor Charlie Baker’s veto of 2021, and looks forward to continuing that conversation.
Other additions featured in the massive House amendment include $50 million to support the electrification of the Framingham/Worcester Railroad, another $50 million for electricity and rapid transit service on the Vermont Line, and $50 million in grants and interest-free loans to help commercial fishermen buy More efficient equipment.
Before being sent to the session for discussion Thursday, House leaders collected the bill for $250 million for early steps toward extending the Western Massachusetts Railroad and $400 million that the MBTA will use to correct horrific safety problems identified in an ongoing federal investigation.
The Federal Transit Administration last week ordered the MBTA to take immediate action to address staffing shortages at the agency’s control center, inadequate protection against runaway trains, and a backlog of late maintenance. Two days later, T officials announced that they would reduce weekday frequency on the red, orange and blue lines to avoid work burnout to an unsafe level.
Asked what prompted House leaders to fold money for the T’s Safety Response bill, House Speaker Ronald Mariano smiled and pointed to coverage of the FTA directive, “Have you read the paper?”
“We’re in a situation where the feds came in and said our trains were unsafe. We’ve killed two people in the past six months,” Mariano told reporters after a Democratic caucus. “We wanted to consider that we had a source of money if we needed to do some repairs to get this thing to a place where public trust is restored. That’s what this is all about. We’ve heard from T that the passenger has been down since the pandemic. Well, there might be reasons There is a reason behind its decline, and we have to start addressing that.”
The House added language by amending the bill that would require the MBTA to publish bi-monthly reports that tally the number of job openings across the agency, how long those jobs have been open, the number of hires it has made in the past two weeks, and the amount of time it will take to train new employees.
That should give a clearer glimpse into the employment outlook in T, as federal investigators warn that a shortened workforce poses safety risks, as the agency heads toward the slope of the operating budget.
Mariano called the $400 million figure a “placeholder” until investigators determine the severity of the problem. Strauss, who along with his counterpart Senator Brendan Crichton will lead an MBTA hearing, added that the money “does not currently translate into a known, well-defined list” of reforms.
“What we saw are, in general, different types of safety issues: escalators, stationary stairs, brakes, tracks, staffing levels. The list goes on and on. Subway car entrances. Different types of safety issues that have different causes that occur in different causes,” Strauss said. T.” “Before oversight is done and the final FTA report is finalized, we don’t know the exact financial figure or specific management recommendations to make, but the $400 million should help the public realize that the legislature is taking it seriously.” ”
The infrastructure bond bill is now heading to the Senate, where top Democrats have not indicated whether they support a pool of money for the MBTA security response.
A Spilka spokeswoman did not directly answer a question about whether it supports the additional MBTA dollars, saying only that the Senate president “looks forward to reviewing the entire bond law.”
The spokesperson also referred to a joint statement by Mariano and Spelka from Tuesday in which the duo announced that they would request an MBTA oversight hearing, but were unable to take a position on funding to respond to the FTA findings. Their statement made clear that both leaders “expect an increase in the amount of funding available” for East-West Train.
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, one of the three Republicans in the room, said he believed “the T Party needs funding.”
“TT has needed additional batches of resources for some time, and the Baker Polito administration has been doing some of these leaks along with the legislature,” Tarr said Thursday. “It seems to me that we have some serious safety issues that need to be addressed in T. Part of the consideration here has to be: How will the additional resources be used to improve safety rather than just expand the system?”
“This is my particular concern about western expansion,” Tarr added. “I think there’s good reason to go ahead with that, with caution, but first of all we need to think about how we can improve the security of the MBTA. We need to think about the resources that need that, but we also need to think about the ongoing levels of support for the process. It’s years ago. , we agreed to refinance in an effort to achieve self-sufficiency from T. Given what happened with the pandemic, that simply isn’t possible, and we’re still in the recovery period, in my opinion, but we need to think about how we use those dollars.”
The recent crisis in the MBTA could reopen the debate at the top of Beacon Hill about not just one-off injections but ongoing and permanent funding for the system as well, particularly as T officials brace for an operating budget gap of hundreds of millions of dollars. Next year.
In March 2020, the House approved a package of tax and fee increases that Democrats said would have generated more than half a billion dollars a year for transportation needs including T, but the bill died in the Senate and was not embraced by legislative leaders. New proposal since then.
“It’s clearly an ongoing problem, and we have to think about alternative solutions,” Mariano said Thursday when asked if problems at the MBTA would prompt his chamber to reconsider a long-term discussion about revenue.
The infrastructure bill would direct about $2.8 billion toward the federal highway system in Massachusetts and another $1.35 billion toward non-federal roads and bridges here.
It is also calling for more than $1.3 billion to support MBTA capital improvements such as electrification of commuter rail trains and replacement of the Green Line fleet, $200 million to promote or support the launch of electric vehicles, nearly $65 million for regional transportation networks and authorities, and many other expenditures judgments.
Baker began the debate by introducing a $9.7 billion bond bill in March (H 4561) that he and his deputy said would maximize the impact of federal dollars flowing into Massachusetts under a new infrastructure law and also put Bay State to compete for additional grant funding.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Act has made billions of dollars available to states in competitive grants, but to get competition, the legislature needs to approve all spending up front before the federal government pays for it.
About $3.5 billion of the original bowl that Baker proposed would put state dollars on the table toward grants.
Sam Doran contributed to the report.