BOSTON, (STATE HOUSE) – With snow-related malfunctions leaving MBTA riders stuck in the cold, Gov. Charlie Baker said he plans to speak with Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack about measures that could be taken relatively quickly to avoid a repeat of the recent transit failures.
“I’m planning to have this conversation with the secretary over the course of the next couple of weeks,” Baker told reporters Tuesday after outlining a budget-balancing plan that features spending reductions. “I’d like to have this conversation with the secretary once it stops snowing.”
Asserting there’s “a lot of work to do in transportation,” Baker said the “big issue” in the transit system is the “utility and availability of a variety of trains,” including replacing some trains in service for 40 years, and expressed hope that train production procurement litigation will end quickly.
Baker helped lead the successful push last year for a law repealing the 2013 law that indexed the gas tax to inflation, an effort that critics said would pull money away from needed investments.
Asked where the state would find money to fix broken transit equipment, Baker said he had not disputed the 3-cent per gallon increase in the gas tax in 2013. “First of all I’ve been here for three weeks so give me a little bit of time to work my way through that one,” Baker said.
According to MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo, vehicle shortages at the start of Tuesday led to the Red, Orange and Blue lines running about 50 percent of a regular weekday schedule. He said the Green Line was closer to 80 percent of a regular schedule and said that the T should be better positioned for the evening commute. The system’s failures came as government officials were encouraging commuters to stay off snow-clogged roads and use public transportation to get to and from work.
“It’s a very expensive undertaking. It’s the oldest system in the country. It requires a lot of resources to just maintain,” Senate President Stanley Rosenberg told reporters in a briefing held in his office Tuesday. He said, “The transportation agenda is far bigger than the public’s appetite to find it and that’s just been demonstrated repeatedly over the years, but it is a core function of government and it is something that will continue to be discussed and debated as to what we’re going to do.”
Speaking by speaker phone at the same briefing held to discuss agenda-setting meetings the Senate plans to hold around the state, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said the problems faced by the MBTA are “deeply concerning.”
In a phone interview about Boston’s bid for the 2024 Summer Games, former Transportation Secretary Richard Davey said transportation officials did a good job under challenging conditions. A transportation activist concurred.
“The T has been amazing at making the equipment that they have work,” Conservation Law Foundation senior attorney Rafael Mares told the News Service. He said, “The reality is that this was a huge snowstorm followed by a particularly cold temperature.”
Mares said all of the Orange Line cars are from the 1980s and one third of the Red Line vehicles are from 1969.
Baker said part of his plan for dealing with a midyear budget gap will include seeking another $50 million for clearing snow and ice and said the impact of last week’s blizzard and this week’s snow might not be known until April.
After low snowfall totals to start the winter, Massachusetts has been hit with a wave of snowstorms that have broken some records. Last week’s blizzard was on par with a 2013 blizzard that Baker said cost between $20 million and $30 million to clean up.
State transportation officials say this year’s budget set aside $100 million for state snow and ice removal, which does not account for local road maintenance.
“This is not just a harsh winter,” Baker said. “It’s the largest and most significant snowstorm ever over the course of the past ten days in Greater Boston, combined with a significant amount of arctic-like temperatures.”
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh estimated the blizzard cleanup cost at about $10 million. During his own morning briefing, Walsh said it was possible that the city would “shatter” its snow removal budget.