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Chamber Chief Slams MBTA, Urges "Bolder Solutions”

May 13, 2019

Frustrated with a recent series of announcements, Boston-area employers are growing impatient with the MBTA and demanding that it consider "bolder solutions," including farming out capital spending oversight to a new entity.

In a letter Monday to the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce President James Rooney, on behalf of the group's more than 1,300 business members, said the T's recent decision to delay some capital spending is "most concerning" and will result in the system's users continuing to "endure unreliable service."

Chamber members are also concerned about possible delays in receiving new Orange Line cars, the likelihood that the T will not meet its deadline for train safety upgrades, and delays in implementing the transit authority's automated fare system.

"In its December 2018 annual report, the FMCB stated that 2019 is expected 'to be a turning point during which customers see results,'" Rooney wrote. "Now, less than six months after that report, the MBTA has announced a series of delays that threaten to stall progress, alter the long-term vision of the MBTA's own strategic plan, and leave customers with a system that falls desperately short of their needs."

Asking residents for more patience and to endure delays "should not be an option," Rooney said.

"With several news stories in recent weeks announcing major MBTA project delays and a project execution crisis, the FMCB today faces a crucial decision," he wrote in his letter. "You can accept the status quo performance that continues to result in both service and capital project delays, a failing regional transportation system, and the worst congestion in the nation. Or, you can aggressively demand improvements and ensure the promises of a world class public transportation system."

Last week, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak proposed a new approach to spending that would spread out spending increases for reliability and modernization more gradually than the sharp boost previously planned. The MBTA could still fully address its capital needs by the 2032 target date with the new approach, Poftak said, but a slower ramp-up would allow more staff to come on board to add capacity for further spending.

Rooney criticized that decision in his letter, writing that businesses want the T to revisit its capital spending plans over the next 30 days. He said the T should consider "whether the capital project delivery function belongs within the T organization" and whether it's necessary to "create a professional capital infrastructure projects organization similar to the school building authority."

Asked by a reporter about the letter after a Fiscal and Management Control Board meeting Monday, Poftak said he was aware it had been sent but had not yet had a chance to read it. Later in the afternoon, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo pointed to recent and future spending on reliability improvements as response to the letter.

"It's important to remember that the state of MBTA assets is better than previous years thanks to more than $3 billion invested in the system since 2015," Pesaturo wrote. "It is clear that the significant capital investment in areas like buses, locomotives, coaches, paratransit vehicles, winter resiliency equipment, and parking facilities has yielded real and tangible improvements."

Poftak and other MBTA officials on Monday also unveiled a new estimate of the system's capital needs, putting the overall cost of replacing or modernizing every outdated component at $10.1 billion, rather than the previous $7.3 billion estimated price tag for achieving a state of good repair.

Pesaturo cited a section of that report indicating that 32 percent of vehicles are now in need of replacement, compared to 73 percent that were out of a state of good repair in 2015, as evidence of the MBTA's successful investments.

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Read this story at Statehousenews.com