The Massachusetts Department of Transportation issued a much anticipated plan Monday to improve public transportation, expand passenger rail and fix crumbling highways and bridges. But, exactly how to pay for it all is left for another day.
The plan calls for spending an additional $13 billion on transportation in Massachusetts during the next ten years. Governor Deval Patrick endorsed the plan as” clear-eyed, non-partisan and fact based.” He said the plan would keep the current transportation system operating and pay for what he called “modest strategic expansions”
The MassDOT plan calls for a five percent increase in tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike and a five percent fare hike for the MBTA. A host of fees charged by the Registry of Motor Vehicles would also go up. But that is not enough, the report, says to wipe out a $684 million operating deficit projected for MassDOT and pay the debt service for capital projects.
The state legislature will need to weigh increases in the gasoline tax, the income tax, or perhaps put something new in place, such as a payroll tax, or a tax on miles driven. The governor said he’ll reveal his preferences at mid week, during the State of the State Address.
The state legislature demanded this comprehensive transportation financing plan in return for a one time funding fix last year for the MBTA, which was facing large fare hikes and deep service cuts. The governor said there will be plenty of opportunity to debate the best ways to pay.
Debate over transportation funding in Massachusetts is always clouded by the spectre of the Big Dig. The $15 billion dollar highway project in Boston that was replete with cost over-runs that left the state transportation system saddled with debt and starved for cash.
The MassDOT plan includes several major highway reconstruction projects, including the I-91 Viaduct in Springfield. State Transporation Secretary Richard Davey said the plan includes rehabbing the infrastructure to support rail service between Pittsfield and New York City and between Springfield and Boston
There is also $430 million for bicycle and pedestrian paths
The plan also includes a $32.2 million increase to the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority next year. The Berkshire Regional Transit Authority would get $3.2 million more and the Franklin Regional Transit Authority would receive $1 million more.