Boston—The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is carrying an
“enormous debt burden” and a $2.7 billion backlog of deferred maintenance,
repair and replacement projects that will preclude system expansion, according
to an internal memo released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
(PEER). The MBTA “cannot afford to build” projects such as the proposed
rail line linking Fall River and New Bedford to Boston “without putting
the entire transit system at risk.”
This stark assessment comes in a March 10, 2005 report from the Transit Subcommittee of the Transportation Finance Commission prepared in preparation for a meeting this Friday. The report’s conclusions mean that many of the projects outlined in Governor Mitt Romney’s 20-year transportation plan issued last week are infeasible.
One clear casualty of this fiscal analysis is the MBTA plan to build the Fall River/New Bedford rail line. The Transit Subcommittee identified the Fall River/New Bedford line as the largest un-funded project, carrying a price tag of $850 million – almost $180 million more than Gov. Romney stated it would cost.
“The left hand of the Romney Administration does not know how much change it is carrying in its right hand,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, whose organization has opposed the Fall River/New Bedford line on both fiscal and environmental grounds. “The proposed Fall River/New Bedford line is a fiscal fantasy that Governor Romney has no business endorsing.”
The Transit Subcommittee concludes that the only way new projects could be financed is through new revenue sources such as highway tolls, earmarking property or gas taxes and increasing assessments on localities served by transit.
An additional element of concern is that the MBTA is proposing to build the controversial new Fall River/New Bedford line through the Hockomock Swamp, an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. As Massachusetts’ largest freshwater wetland, the Hockomock Swamp is one of the most ecologically important wetlands in the northeast.
“Bisecting the Hockomock with a commuter rail line would not only be an environmental disaster, but a financial one as well,” Bennett, a biologist formerly with EPA, added. “MBTA’s own analyses of projected ridership show that it would be cheaper to transport each commuter in his or her own limousine than it would be to build and maintain this line.”