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Mass. Holds Hearings On $12B Transportation Spending Plan

BOSTON — The state is moving forward on a massive transportation spending plan that lays out how Massachusetts will spend money on infrastructure over the next five years.

Authorities say it’s first of its kind in Massachusetts — a $12 billion road map on what the state wants, how to get there, and what it will cost — down to the last dollar.

There’s $1.3 billion to extend the Green Line, with the first part of it expected to open in 2017.

Some $250 million will lay the groundwork, literally, on restoring commuter rail service to Fall River and New Bedford.

“We picked the projects based on our needs,” said Transportation Secretary Richard Davey during an interview. “Where there are potholes, where we know we have to make pavement improvements, where we know we’ve got Red Line cars that were built in 1969. It doesn’t take a transportation genius to figure out that we need to make those kind of investments.”

Davey said even though $12 billion is a lot of money it is still not enough to do everything they want.

“Whether it’s the Blue Line extension to Lynn, or better rail service between Springfield and Boston, or better Pike access in the Berkshires, you can go down the list and find projects and things people wanted we couldn’t fit in here,” he said.

Complaints about what’s funded — and more often what is not funded — were the theme at the first public hearings on the matter Wednesday night in Boston and Worcester.

“What really shocked me was not a reduction, but a complete absence of funding for the MBTA bus system,” said Stuart Spina, a member of the T Riders Union, who said some buses have more than 500,000 miles on them. “Namely, replacing vehicles. The buses that I was riding to elementary school I ride to work today.”

Spina was one of more than a dozen people to cite the lack of spending on new buses — something that would cost roughly $450 million.

Elizabeth Weyant works with Transportation for Massachusetts, an advocacy group that calls for more investment in infrastructure. She said in five years, when the state plan dedicates funding to replacing old buses, 85 percent of MBTA buses will be past their projected lifespan of 12 years.

“We’ll see buses breaking down,” she said. “It could raise some potential safety concerns. You’ll see sort of those old decrepit buses that’ll have pollution. We can’t afford to invest no money in them over the next five years.”

There are no easy solutions. Eighty percent of the spending in this plan — almost $10 billion — will go just toward fixing things we already have. Potholes on roads. Old bridges. Repairs on the MBTA.

Speaking after the hearing, Secretary Davey admitted he knows there will be complaints no matter what the final plan includes.

“We’ll take a look at the draft and see if we can do something, but it probably means we have to cut something else,” he said. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t surprise me. People want more, not less.”

The plan will go through four more public hearings over the next two weeks before a final draft goes before MassDOT’s Board of Directors near the end of February.

Davey said it is still possible those calling for new buses, more bike paths or more local aid for road projects could get their wishes in the final package.

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