ROUGHLY TWO-THIRDS of the MBTA’s assets are beyond their useful life and would cost $24.5 billion to bring into a state of good repair, according to a new analysis of the transit authority’s infrastructure.
The numbers boggle the mind, more than double the $10 billion estimate that was generated the last time such an analysis was done in 2019. It was also clear from the data that the T’s assets are aging faster than they are being replaced, suggesting that the cost estimate may actually be higher.
But the numbers are also squishy because the analysis is a snapshot in time – July 1, 2021 to be precise – that dramatically expands the universe of MBTA assets by nearly 42 percent, assumes an inflatiuonary impact, and doesn’t take into account some of the ongoing programs to address aging equipment, including purchases of new subway and commuter rail cars.
“In some cases, we are already on our way to addressing some of these needs,” said Jillian Linnell, the executive director of capital strategy at the MBTA.
T officials waded through the facts and figures for the MBTA board on Thursday, and board members responded by pressing for an estimate of what the transit authority should be spending on an annual basis to upgrade its assets. MBTA officials seemed reluctant to come up with that number, but it was clear it will be much higher than the $1.4 billion currently being spent.
“Obviously it’s more than $1.4 billion,” said MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng, quickly adding: “No one expects $24 billion right away.”
Thomas McGee, a former mayor of Lynn and the former co-chair of the state Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said the numbers start to shed light on the scope of the problems facing the MBTA. “This is very sobering,” he said.
Mary Skelton Roberts, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s appointee to the board, urged T officials to be bold in their eventual funding request.
“Ask for what you need,” Skelton Roberts said to Linnell. “Be as ambitious in your ask as you are in the way you are starting to manage this system. The Commonwealth needs it.”
T officials explained state of good repair using as an example a car with an expected useful life of eight years. The officials said maintenance costs during the car’s first two years on the road are minimal but start increasing in year three through eight. Beyond year eight, the vehicle may continue to run well but the odds are that maintenance and repair costs will start rising to a point where the vehicle should be replaced.
Ronnie Valdivia, the MBTA’s director of asset management, said the car example illustrates the challenges of managing assets, deciding when it’s time to replace rather than repair.
One chart showed that continuing to spend $1.4 billion a year on state of good repair projects would drive down the number of assets beyond their useful life through 2033 but then the numbers would start to go in the opposite direction and head sharply upward.
The biggest costs in the $24.5 billion estimate were for repair, passenger, and parking facilities ($6.4 billion); bridge and tunnel structures ($5.3 billion); energy infrastructure, including generators, electrical substations, and overhead catenary wires ($5.1 billion), and rolling stock ($2.4 billion).