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Mass. Senate bill mirrors House version on east-west rail, MBTA aid

Senate bill mirrors House version on rail

Top Democrats in both branches are now in agreement on a plan that would carve out hundreds of millions of dollars for one-time safety funding for the MBTA and $250 million to put toward a rail expansion in Western Massachusetts.

The Senate on Thursday teed up its version of a nearly $10.4 billion infrastructure bond bill that, like the legislation the House unanimously approved last month, would create a $400 million pot that the T could tap as the transit agency works to address critical safety problems uncovered by a blistering federal investigation, according to a bill summary.

The redraft also mirrors the House’s $250 million in bonds toward the long-sought east-west rail project and creates a commission to investigate whether Massachusetts needs a new public agency to build the project and then operate a western rail segment.

Beacon Hill Democrats effectively snubbed both Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and U.S. Rep. Richie Neal, D-Springfield, by punting questions about control of the western rail expansion to a study. Baker and Neal, who as chair of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee is one of the most powerful lawmakers in Washington, announced in April they had agreed to a path forward for the rail project, and said it would hinge on creating a new authority to oversee the service.

The MBTA’s current commuter rail network stretches as far west as Fitchburg. The Senate Ways and Means Committee bill set for debate Thursday has a bottom line more than half a billion dollars lower than the nearly $11 billion version the House approved, but senators are likely to amend the bill with earmarks for district projects.

COVID reports shift from daily to weekly

Friday will be the last day that the Department of Public Health provides a daily update on COVID-19 metrics in Massachusetts.

The agency announced Friday that it is moving to once-a-week reporting of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, deaths and more. When the pandemic began, DPH started out providing fresh counts of infected residents, hospitalized patients and COVID-19 deaths seven days a week, allowing residents to track the virus’s spread and make informed decisions to protect themselves.

A year ago, DPH cut back to providing updates on weekdays only and next week will start updating its COVID-19 Interactive Data Dashboard once a week on Thursdays.

“While we all have become used to checking the numbers every day, monitoring trends over time is actually the most useful way to apply the COVID-19 data,” said Dr. Helen Boucher, interim dean of Tufts University School of Medicine and a member of the governor’s Medical Advisory Board. “Given that Massachusetts has one of the best vaccination and booster percentages in the nation, these changes make sense at this stage in our COVID-19 response.”

DPH is also removing higher education-specific data sections from the dashboard “due to the decrease in surveillance testing being conducted in those settings,” and is removing tabs on contact tracing and case clusters because “due to changes in case investigation and contact tracing practices, these data are no longer representative of the current situation,” the agency said.

Also starting next week, DPH said it will publish its weekly COVID-19 Vaccination Report on Wednesdays rather than Thursdays. As of Wednesday, there were more than 1.77 million cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Massachusetts since February 2020 and the virus has killed an estimated 21,000 people. The seven-day average positivity rate stands at 7.29 percent, which does not count most of the increasingly popular at-home rapid tests.

— State House News Service

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