Report predicts $19M shortfall
The Transportation Finance Commission report estimates that the shortfall in maintenance does not even address the costs to expand or improve the system.
The report came as "no surprise to any of us that our transportation infrastructure is in need of serious repair and improvement," said state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, D-Lowell, the acting chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. "This is a serious long-term financial issue that we are all going to have to deal with."
The problems in transportation funding are not limited to the Boston metro area, but stretch to the western half of the state.
According to the report, the Western Turnpike has $93 million in its reserve fund, while maintaining $211 million in outstanding debt. Operated by the Turnpike Authority, the Western Turnpike will spend reserve funds to bridge its revenue gap next year.
The commission estimates the bonds used to create the Western Turnpike will be paid in full if tolls are collected through 2017. By state regulation, MassHighway will then decide whether to accept the Western Turnpike into the state system at that time.
Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation and a member of the commission, said MassHighway is experiencing its own problems without taking on the Western Turnpike.
"Virtually every transportation agency is scrambling to produce balanced budgets and provide maintenance," Widmer said. "But they are losing ground."
|» Separate but equal|
The Turnpike Authority is divided into the Western Turnpike, which runs Route 90 from New York state to East Boston, and the Metropolitan Highway System, which oversees the Boston Extension from Route 128/I-95 to the end of I-90 in East Boston.
If the Western Turnpike is forced to remain independent, the commission fears the reserves will be drawn down, and there will be no money to operate and maintain this 123-mile transportation link.
"It would be absolutely irresponsible to eliminate (western tolls) without an alternative revenue source established," Widmer said.
Ways to address the funding gap will be included in the commission's next report, which is due in the next few months. Commission members hinted at possible alternatives that included raising the gas tax, a public-private leasing partnership for infrastructure, as well as raising tolls and keeping them on the Western Turnpike.
The commission, made up largely of Boston business leaders, was created by the Legislature in 2004 and spent three years studying state transportation funding and how to raise additional revenue to improve state roads and bridges.
Gov. Deval L. Patrick issued a statement saying the transportation issues need to be addressed immediately, but offered no methods to fix the problem. He asked cabinet officials to study the findings.
With roads, bridges, and transit in decline, Stephen Silveria, chairman of the commission, said the costs would only continue to go up.
Widmer said politicians face some hard decisions that could be unpopular with constituents but necessary for the commonwealth's future.
"Walking away is a death knell for the Massachusetts economy," Widmer said. "We have a crisis here and we have to attend to it."
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