DOT IN CRISIS: Boston’s rail system in need of $7+ billion overhaul

Sept. 1, 2015

Transportation officials revealed the figure this week, citing a $650 million increase over previous estimates

State of good repair backlogs have plagued state departments of transportation for decades, and it seems that the issue, despite marginal signs of progress in some corners of the nation, is nonetheless persisting and doing so with vigor. The city of Boston is an unfortunate example.

According to figures released by Boston transportation officials, the cost of bringing the city’s transit system up to a sound state of good repair now sits at an estimated $7.3 billion, an increase of more than $650 million over another estimate earlier this year, a figure that has itself more than doubled in the past five years.

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials have increased the considered assets in their system inventory, which led to the initial $650 million leap over last year’s estimates for system upgrade and SGR concerns. As defined by the Authority, the backlog is the total amount it would cost to bring the entire inventory of vehicles and equipment up to ideal working order. Many items inventoried are past their life expectancy and/or are actively operating in poor condition.

“State of good repair is ultimately about the assets that we already have and making sure that we keep those assets so they are able to serve their intended purpose,” said Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack.

The brutal winters endured by the Boston metropolitan area have not helped matters. Massive equipment breakdowns, canceled trains and stranded passengers have been pervasive side effects of the winter intensity. Transit officials disclosed to the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board that an annual capital investment of $765 million would be necessary to erase the full SGR backlog by 2040; the total backlog sat at $3.1 billion in 2009 and the more $4 billion increase in the interim is the result of a more comprehensive accounting of materials, processes and need. MBTA presently is responsible for more than a quarter-million individual assets.

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