As the Herald’s Sean Philip Cotter and Mary Markos reported, the board met Monday and approved a spate of spendy resolutions. First up: a massive overhaul of the Commuter Rail, with electrification of main Commuter Rail lines and trains running every 15 to 20 minutes all day, rather than the current handful of trains headed into Boston in the morning and then back out in the evening. But the piece de resistance is a tunnel that would link North and South stations.
Marvelous stuff, though we’re not quite sure why all-day, every-20-minute trains are needed for the Newburyport/Rockport Line. Perhaps Rockport is the next hot nabe? And a tunnel linking North Station with South would be a boon for getting around the city efficiently. The last time it was easy to traverse the Seaport and North End areas using public transportation was in the heyday of the Atlantic Avenue El, which ran from 1901 to 1938.
But here’s the tricky bit — the Commuter Rail improvements come with a $10 billion to $28 billion price tag, and that North/South Station tunnel rings up at nearly $30 billion on its own.
“The time is now to say let’s do it,” said MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board Chairman Joe Aiello.
Ah. Aiello smiled and slipped into a back room when the sordid topic of coin was raised by reporters. You have to give him points for comic timing.
Gov. Charlie Baker, when asked whether the money will come from taxes, tolls, fares or all three, answered, “There’s a lot of work that has to be done to figure out exactly which pieces and when would be pursued under this.”
Margaret Thatcher famously said, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.” Fortunately for the T, we live in a democracy in which we keep electing people who raise our taxes, so the funding well is virtually bottomless.
Paul Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance suspects high gas taxes could foot part of the bill — and added that the state doesn’t have the appropriate controls in place to make sure this scale of spending is done properly.
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“This is the new Big Dig for the next generation to pay,” said Craney, referring to the notoriously out-of-control, over-budget and problem-plagued highway megaproject that burned through money in the 1990s and 2000s.
Even though Halloween is past, conjure up this horrifying image: tunnel construction around South Station during rush hour.
Part of the impetus for the plan is getting cars off the road by 2040, by giving commuters an alternative. High gas taxes and congestion pricing will help with that, long before 2040. The drivers won’t necessarily opt for public transport — we’re talking about the “0 days without a problem” T — but they could set their GPS for New Hampshire or other states where the tax and commuting picture is brighter.
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