Editorial, Opinion

STAFF EDIT: Time for T to bargain

Like the eager shopper who stumbles upon an end-of-the-season sale, the T must soon make a decision whether to pass up a great bargain on a questionable product. The transportation agency optimistically estimates the federal government would fund 60 percent of costs for Phase III of Silver Line construction, according to a Tuesday Boston Globe article.
The T could create a 1.1-mile bus tunnel that would get some use, and expect to pay for only a fraction of the project’s costs; footing its portion of the bill would cost the T just over $500 million, based on dated estimates and neglecting any unexpected cost overruns. Based on past underground construction projects in the city of Boston, T officials should budget for unforeseen cost overruns and unexpected delays.
Many smart shoppers have backed away from flashy luxuries, exercising particular discretion when cash is in short supply. Commuters and taxpayers can only hope the T will be so wise as to back down from planning for a construction project it can hardly afford and does not immediately need.
The T has failed to describe how many people would use Phase III of the Silver Line or how it would fund the project. On its website, the agency merely states, ‘Not funding Silver Line Phase III would mean not only a loss of hundreds of millions of federal dollars for the commonwealth, but we would be losing a good transit project for our region.’ However, not funding the project would also mean holding on to at least $500 million at a time when the MBTA is hard-pressed to even pay salaries, and the ability to re-direct institutional planning to the most dire of the T’s many pressing needs ‘-‘- among which a bus tunnel ranks low.
Another question the project raises is why the T has chosen a tunnel for the third phase of a bus line; connecting the two sections of the Silver Line above ground may not ideally suit an already congested downtown surface grid, but it’s certainly a better solution than the costly one proposed.
As the T pushes into the next stage of planning and solicits concerns regarding ‘groundwater depletion, impacts to historic homes, traffic, noise, vibration’ for an environmental review, it is not clear when residents will have an opportunity to inject common sense into discussions about Phase III. It seems the T’s best argument in favor of the project is that it can go forward with it, and can gather some financial backing. The T bears a ballooning $8 billion in debt. In coming months, smart citizens, with more concern for the long-term stability of the T than perhaps its overseers, must remind the agency of an old maxim, you’ve got to have money to make money; they must also repeat the simple truth as stated by Rep. Michael Capuano to the Globe, ‘The T hasn’t got a nickel, never mind $1.2 billion.’

One Comment

  1. You know the funny thing? The MBTA’s argument is they have to do it as it is mandated by law. <p/>Yet, the other projects mandated by law also included connection Red Line’s Charles/MGH with the Blue Line and restoring the street-running portion of the E-Line Arborway Section but manage to wiggle their way out of that (Charles/MGH only have to do the designs but not required to build it). Which both have community support, and people still lobbying for it. Only the green line project to Medford is being followed through, and that took the governor’s direct intervention with state sponsorship to do it. <p/>Yet, for the silver line project, which have a lot more people against it and a lot less people for it than the other projects, is being pushed. Where’s the logic in this project?