November 7, 2017

MBTA upgrades eyed for 2018

Grant Welker
A commuter rail train pulls into Worcester's Union Station.

MBTA commuters could see long-awaited improvements to the transit system next year, just in time for a gubernatorial campaign that is expected to make the T a central theme.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack conceded Sunday that T riders have not yet benefitted from more than two years of work at the transit agency and said she expects the improvements to become more apparent in 2018, when the jobs held by Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito are up for re-election.

"A lot of progress has been made; not enough of it yet that our customers are seeing it. I think they're going to start seeing it soon," Pollack said on WBZ-TV when host Jon Keller asked where the T stands in rebuilding after its collapse in the winter of 2015. "A lot of it was, honestly, we had an agency that was incapable in many ways of running service, running procurements, building things."

Pollack ticked off a litany of things the T has done to improve how it operates as an agency and how the system works for riders. She cited the purchase of new Red and Orange Line cars, the purchase of new buses, fixes to tracks and signals, and changes to the MBTA's leadership.

MBTA riders are frequently delayed by disabled trains and faulty track infrastructure, and Democrats vying for the corner office have already seized upon the T's shortcomings as campaign fodder. Newton Mayor Setti Warren has called Baker's management of the T "a scandal that threatens the vitality of our economy and reduces the quality of life that drives our success."

Keller asked Pollack if the administration will be asking voters next year to trust them that the T will be run better, given that many of the improvements Pollack cited will not be visible to riders by the time Election Day comes.

"I think it's more than trust us," she said. "There is tangible evidence and I think there will be even more for people to see in 2018.:

In September, the Baker administration announced that the governor would create a new commission to "further review, analyze and better inform the state's transportation capital needs," and to look at how state revenues -- the gas tax and vehicle registration fees, for instance -- could shift along with changes in transportation and technology. The commission has not yet been established.

That announcement came after the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation released a report critical of the state for not having an updated blueprint of how it is going to address transportation infrastructure and financing needs in the next decade, saying such a blueprint is desperately needed given the advances in technology and climate change.

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