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State of hock

If the MBTA wasn't in debt, these items would be at the top of its new wish list.
By JASON NOTTE  |  April 30, 2008


Smells like T spirit!
Boston’s mass-transit system dates back to 1631, when sailboats ferried passengers from Chelsea to Charlestown. In the subsequent 377 years, service has become a teeny bit faster — but at a price that has put the MBTA in debt to a tune of more than $8 billion. With transportation issues getting renewed scrutiny under the Patrick administration, Phoenix staffers fanned out to kick the T’s tires.

• The trolley Svengali: Why Dan Grabauskas might actually fix the T — if he can keep his job. By Adam Reilly.
• Trouble 'round the bend? MBTA workers have been without a contract for two years. Arbitration will settle the matter soon, but could stir an angry hornets’ nest for 2010. By David S. Bernstein
• Seven habits of highly effective T-riders: Keep your hands on the pole and not on your neighbor’s ass, bucko. By Sharon Steel.
• The T and the Tube: London’s Underground is seething with danger. Boston’s T has cuckoo juice. By James Parker.
• Underground art: Reviewing the MBTA’s subterranean aesthetic. By Mike Miliard.
A sinking feeling: Leaky MBTA tunnels have been seeping Boston’s groundwater for years. Can a new plan prevent potential catastrophe? By David S. Bernstein
• The Phoenix editorial: Is the MBTA on track?

Kenmore Station looks as if it has just survived an act of God, the Orange Line hasn’t seen a new car since the Reagan administration, and the head of the Transit Police union says there are only five cops riding the rails at any given time.

Welcome to the MBTA’s multibillion-dollar debt fest.

With the T approximately $5 billion in the red (more than $8 billion if you apply interest), most of the items on riders’ wish lists seem as far removed as the next 66 bus on a Sunday.

Just how many projects and purchases could be sped along if the T didn’t have such weighty obligations? In a sort of fantasy-league-inspired shopping spree, we shrugged off the interest and rode home with these items.

NEW CARS The Orange Line’s 120 cars have been on the tracks for 20 years or more, according to MBTA estimates. The Green Line follows a close second with 92 almost-legal-drinking-age cars, followed by the Red Line’s 84 and the Blue Line’s 70. Though the T just completed its purchases of 95 Green Line cars at more than $2.3 million each and 94 new Blue Line cars at $1.8 million each, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo says the first step toward new Orange and Red Line cars won’t take place until this summer, with new models not arriving until 2012. Bummer. For the sake of argument, let’s say the T takes a bid of $2 million apiece for new Red and Orange Line cars. If you’re going to pay more than $400 million to update two lines, you may as well do all four and the Mattapan trolley. “We have a Mattapan system that is 75 years old and says ‘Welcome to the Green Line,’ ” says Lisa Sadika Edwards, chairwoman of transit advocacy group the T Riders’ Union. “They say they’re preserving history, and I say, ‘Put history in the museum.’ ” TOTAL COST $745.6 million

MORE COPS This past fall, Transit Police union leader Robert Marino said that only five of the force’s 270 officers ride the trains at a time. The union also says that the force averages one officer for every 5058 riders, compared with the national average of 1759 riders per officer. That this isn’t prompting scenes straight out of The Warriors is somewhat amazing, but why merge with the staties when you can hire? To reach the national average, and to stop incidents such as 2007’s Green Line groping spree, the MBTA police would have to nearly triple its force by adding 510 more cops. At a base salary of $48,000, plus $16,000 for fringe benefits, this looks like a bargain. TOTAL COST $32.6 million

AN EXPANDED GREEN LINE Governor Patrick is still waiting on a $300 million federal grant to extend the line past Lechmere to Tufts as part of a $600 million project that may not be finished until 2016. There’s also some debate over whether it should go to Union Square or not. Stop waiting and stop debating. TOTAL COST $600 million

A FINISHED KENMORE SQUARE Three years and $32 million later, Kenmore Square is still a mess. The bus stop looks like an Erector set with pieces missing; the subway station is a leaky, crumbling bomb shelter; and traffic through the area still snarls. Let’s pay some overtime and get it done before the next Sox game. TOTAL COST $50 million

SILVER LINE PHASE III Forget the fact that calling a bus on a wire a “subway line” is just a wee bit deceitful; connecting the Silver Lines just makes sense, and expanding them to include Copley Square, Grove Hall, Mattapan, Ashmont, and the Fairmount commuter rail offers more than lip service to underserved communities. Considering that tunneling in this town can get costly in a hurry, let’s go with former state transportation secretary John Cogliano’s 2006 plan to keep the link above ground. TOTAL COST $94 million

1  |  2  |  next >
  • Is the MBTA on track?
    In the real world, funding is only an issue; politics is the most persistent problem
  • Trouble 'round the bend?
    MBTA workers have been without a contract for two years. Arbitration will settle the matter soon, but could stir an angry hornets’ nest for 2010.
  • A sinking feeling
    Leaky MBTA tunnels have been seeping Boston’s groundwater for years. Can a new plan prevent potential catastrophe?
  • More more >
  Topics: News Features , Public Transportation , Transportation , Ronald Reagan ,  More more >
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