MBTA officials have long been sounding the alarm about the poor state of the system’s infrastructure and lamenting years of disinvestment, and on Thursday they put an eye-watering new price tag on the myriad issues that have piled up: $24.5 billion.
The T published a new analysis of the quality of its trains, tracks, signals, construction equipment and other assets, confirming the dire state of the system that is widely understood but has not been quantified in four years.
Nearly two-thirds of all MBTA assets are not in a state of good repair, and it would cost $24.5 billion to fix all of those issues, the agency concluded in its latest assessment. That figure includes the costs only of addressing current problems, not regular maintenance for infrastructure in a state of good repair nor expansions, electrifications and other large-scale projects.
The new estimate is nearly two and a half times more expensive than the last capital needs assessment produced in 2019 under the Baker administration. Officials said the sharp increase is driven by a combination of factors including stinging construction inflation and MBTA assets aging faster than they are being replaced.
MBTA General Manager Phil Eng told agency overseers the estimate is a “snapshot in time of our assets” and what it will take to bring them all to a state of good repair.
“The MBTA is one of the oldest transit agencies in the country, and while there are a number of contributing factors, it’s clear that years of underinvestment have added to the cost of bringing our system back to a state of good repair,” Eng said in a statement alongside release of the analysis, adding that his team is “committed to aggressively addressing our immediate needs.”
Officials also updated their methodology this time around. As a result of changes to the T’s asset management systems, the latest study factored 83,683 individual assets into its cost estimate, compared to 59,073 assets in 2019.
Infrastructure not in a state of good repair is past its useful life and incurs more costs to maintain and operate, but MBTA officials said the state of good repair is not a direct reflection of asset safety.
The highest share of poor conditions is on the T’s subway and trolley tracks. Nearly 90 percent of those stretches — some of which have been unable to support full-speed travel for months due to unaddressed defects — are outside a state of good repair, representing $2 billion in costs, according to the T’s assessment.
About 35 percent of facilities are not in a state of good repair with a total cost of $6.4 billion, the largest single-area price estimate. Other major categories include power systems (76 percent out of good repair, $5.1 billion in cost), trains and trolleys (55 percent out of good repair, $2.4 billion in costs) and structures (22 percent out of good repair, $5.3 billion in costs).
MBTA officials based their estimates on asset conditions in 2021.
Kate Dineen, president and CEO of the A Better City business group, described the report as “confirmation of what was already clear to T riders and supporters — the MBTA is suffering from a legacy of underinvestment and needs more funding to get the system back on track.”
“Now, the Administration, elected officials, and advocates must come together to develop an actionable plan to identify new sources of revenue to address this critical backlog, as well as the investments needed [to] modernize, decarbonize, and fortify our system from the worsening impacts of climate change,” Dineen said in a statement.
The astonishing bottom line could rip open a new round of debate about how the state funds the MBTA. While lawmakers have steered large sums of one-time funding to the agency to assist with safety improvements, the T has chronic operating budget problems and officials there project they will face a budget shortfall of up to $139 million in fiscal year 2025, which begins July 1, that will then rise to as much as $543 million by FY28.
The nearly $25 billion in state of good repair needs is roughly nine times the MBTA’s fiscal year 2024 operating budget, more than two and a half times the size of the agency’s five-year capital investment plan, and about 44 percent as big as the entire state budget for fiscal year 2024.
Monica Tibbits-Nutt, a former MBTA overseer whom Gov. Maura Healey this week officially named transportation secretary, had funding on her mind during her first public appearance Wednesday, one day before the T released its long-awaited study.
“The amount of money that is coming from the Legislature is not enough. And I don’t think that that’s even a controversial thing to say; that’s just simple math. It isn’t enough,” Tibbits-Nutt said Wednesday. “So how do we get enough money for it? Because we cannot make that money contingent on, ‘Oh, well, the service needs to be this level of quality, you need this level of on-time performance to get that money.’ Because you can’t achieve that if you don’t have that money. You put the T in a difficult position where they can only lose, because there’s no winning that way.”
(Copyright (c) 2023 State House News Service.