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June 10, 2015

State sketches out $3B transportation spending plan

State transportation officials on Tuesday proposed roughly $3 billion in capital projects in fiscal 2016 for highways, smaller airports, the Registry of Motor Vehicles, freight tracks and the MBTA, including the governor's "winter resiliency" plan for the T.

Though the proposed one-year capital plan has not yet been approved, the MBTA has begun to advertise for work preparing the system for next winter.

"We thought we'd get a jump start on the procurement side of it," MBTA Interim General Manager Frank DePaola told the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board of Directors on Tuesday. DePaola, who stepped in to lead the MBTA after harsh weather knocked out train lines, said T staff is eager to "show people we can get this right."

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack had previously expressed concern about the T failing to fulfill its capital spending plans.

In fiscal 2015, DePaola said he expected MBTA capital spending to reach $695 million, up from $631 million a year earlier. In fiscal 2016, as funding goes toward the Green Line extension through Somerville and the purchase of Red and Orange line cars, the MBTA is expected to spend $1 billion. Money is also included for the Wachusett extension on the Fitchburg commuter rail line.

"We're pretty confident we're going to hit that billion dollar target," DePaola said.

Pollack said this year's interconnected MassDOT and MBTA capital investment plans are for one-year, but in the future transportation officials will annually put together five-year capital plans.

Because projects are already in the works, options are "limited" unless officials decided to cancel spending, Pollack said.

"We are locked in to spend billions of dollars," Pollack told the board.

The plan also includes funding for the "Knowledge Corridor" train that goes through the Pioneer Valley and design and permitting of the proposed South Coast rail project.

Much of the funding will go toward repairing and upgrading existing transit infrastructure, including winter resiliency improvements and the beginning of positive train control on the commuter rail.

Positive train control, crash-preventing technology that gained prominence following the disastrous Amtrak crash in Philadelphia earlier this year, would cost a total of about $460 million, according to DePaola and the state budgeted $23 million toward that effort for fiscal 2016.

The MBTA plan will be submitted to the MBTA Advisory Board for review and state transit officials will hold public hearings, Advisory Board Executive Director Paul Regan said.

"Normally we see it around the end of November," said Regan. He said, "This is an unusual year."

Regan said he was "happy" about the investment in state of good repair, and said the MBTA's capital plan has focused on repair for the past few years as the state takes on the responsibility for funding expansion.

In an effort to increase the efficiency of the bus system, DePaola said he would speak to officials in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville about ways buses could avoid traffic - including dedicated lanes and priority at traffic signals.

DePaola also said a larger review that could entail the redesign of bus routes and other services will be undertaken this summer and fall.

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