Baker outlines $9.7 billion plan to tap into Fed infrastructure aid

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BOSTON (State House News Service) – Efforts to replace MBTA’s entire Green Line cart fleet, a statewide shift toward electric vehicle adoption, and plans to make infrastructure more resilient to the impacts of climate change would all benefit from a $9.7 billion boost. the bond bill that Governor Charlie Baker introduced on Thursday.

Nearly two months after first hinting at his intention to introduce a new carriage bond bill, Baker has offered a first look at a proposal that the MBTA chief says will play a ” catalytic role” to maximize money for Massachusetts under a new federal infrastructure law. .

Once introduced, the legislation will spark a debate over years of investment in the state’s pothole-strewn roads and bridges, aging public transit and infrastructure ill-equipped to withstand the weight of change. climatic.

It’s also a proposal likely to gain lawmakers’ approval in the coming months, though House and Senate Democrats are likely to tailor priorities to their preferences and could push the results higher. Bill.

“This is a bill that talks about infrastructure, but it’s clearly about climate, mobility, our communities, our economy. It connects everything,” Lt. Governor Karyn Polito said. , who joined Baker and senior MPs to unveil the outline of the bill in Worcester. “Now we have an opportunity with these funds to really put them to work in an accelerated way.”

Baker’s office released a summary breaking down some of the highlights of the bill — $2.8 billion of which comes from the formula funding increase in the new federal infrastructure law — but did not update. copy of the legislation available within hours of Baker’s press. conference.

Bond bill provides $5.4 billion in funding for highways, $2.2 billion for MBTA, $591 million for regional transportation authorities and $1.4 billion to improve environmental infrastructure , according to Baker.

Massachusetts is on track to receive about $9.5 billion over the next five years under the roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed in November, representing a combination reauthorized and newly approved funds. To use the money, Baker said, lawmakers must pre-approve the range of spending on transportation and infrastructure projects, including which parts will be covered by federal funds.

“The way it works is the state authorizes, the state advances, the state spends, and the feds reimburses,” Baker said. “It’s critical for us to get this legislation passed as quickly as possible, which will then allow us to move forward aggressively in putting this $9.7 billion series of projects to work across Massachusetts. over the next five years.”

Baker said he sees the bill as containing two large buckets: $6.2 billion representing a “combination of state and federal money” that will flow through existing formula programs over the next five years, and $3.5 billion to increase the state’s chances of winning additional federal funds. dollars available through grant programs.

Discretionary and competitive grants provide a “significant amount of resources,” Baker said. But to tap into the pot of additional federal resources, states must commit their own money.

“What the Commonwealth is doing by pumping this $3.5 billion into the bond bill basically shows the Federal Government that they are in the game and have money on the table and ready to go,” said said Rick Dimino, President and CEO of the A. Better City Business Group. “It’s kind of like, ‘Hey, we’re in this game in a big way, and don’t question Massachusetts when it comes to whether or not we can find a game because the money is right. on the table.'”

In the eyes of the administration, the return on that effort could be substantial: Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler said Massachusetts could receive $2 billion to $3 billion in discretionary grants over the next five years through the federal package.

For months, transportation advocates have urged the Baker administration and legislature to make subsidy mining a top priority, warning that the infrastructure law could have a moderate impact if the Bay State falls behind. on other states.

Massachusetts has already missed out on other federal transportation funding options. The MBTA did not apply for an American Rescue Plan Act-funded grant to preserve transit jobs after staff concluded they would not be able to demonstrate need as the program required. , leaving officials to watch as 18 other states shared $2.2 billion in additional aid.

Dimino said he’s optimistic Baker’s legislation puts Massachusetts on a solid footing to make the most of the moment, calling it “exactly what the Commonwealth needs to position itself to move forward with a robust and modernized transport system”.

“The opportunity to have $3.5 billion to take advantage of new federal dollars coming in that will be competitive puts Massachusetts in a really good position to hopefully be ahead of the line,” Dimino said.

The bill — which Baker dubbed a Massachusetts Climate and Transportation Resources Act, or MassTRAC — includes $400 million to support MBTA infrastructure and vehicle upgrade efforts and an additional $830 million. for the purchase of a brand new fleet of Green Line trolleys. The new vehicles would be more energy efficient than the oldest Green Line trains still in service today, many of which are 20 to 30 years old, according to MBTA chief executive Steve Poftak.

Other major T projects supported by the legislation include the rebuilding of Worcester commuter rail station and the construction of a new bus maintenance facility in Quincy, which is needed to deploy fully electric buses in the system. of public transport.

“MassTRAC funding plays a catalytic role in allowing MBTA to fully utilize these bipartisan Infrastructure Act funds, both allowing us to match federal formula funds and also strengthening our competitive position as we compete,” Poftak said. . “We will compete and win future discretionary funding opportunities.”

With the transportation sector accounting for about 42 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, environmental infrastructure is at the center of the legislation and the target of much of the proposed funding.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said the investments outlined in the bill “will help us reduce carbon emissions in all areas of our transportation system.” This includes $200 million to match federal funds for electric vehicle charging infrastructure and electric school buses.

Theoharides referred to noise emanating from the Interstate 290 bridge over East Central Street in Worcester, which was the backdrop for Thursday’s announcement and whose replacement project would be partly funded by legislation.

“In the next 10 years, we can be here standing by this bridge and being able to hear each other,” Theoharides said. “Something we don’t talk about with electric vehicles – we talk about the fact that they reduce pollution, they dramatically reduce carbon emissions, they are also virtually silent. I bet in 10 years, if we end up here , we could actually hear each other talking.”

“These vehicles are clean, they’re quiet, they don’t pollute communities, and we have several ways to really increase the availability of these vehicles and the systems that support them through this bill,” he said. -she adds.

Written by Chirs Lisinski/SHNS

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