There is something to be said for ambition, and it would be hard to criticize the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board for laying out a sweeping plan to upgrade the Massachusetts’s commuter rail system — frequently used by many New Hampshire residents.
The panel voted Monday to back a series of proposals to electrify the 400-mile network over the next two decades. Initial plans include upgrading the Newburyport/Rockport line through Chelsea, Revere and Lynn, which already have electrified lines. That would surely be a boon for North Shore and Merrimack Valley commuters. Trains running on electrified lines can move more smoothly into and out of stops, and the idea is to have trains running at 15-minute intervals between North Station and Lynn, at least to start.
The board also voted to create a “transformation office” to oversee the efforts to remake the system.
“Let’s see what happens. Let’s go at it,” said Joseph Aiello, the board’s chair. “If we keep studying and studying and studying and don’t commit ourselves to going to implementation, we’ll be here in 20 years again at the same point.”
The commitment to the idea is exemplary, but the board left out a key element — how to pay for the work. Overhauling the system, depending on how much “transformation” the state decides on, could cost as much as $28.9 billion. Tellingly, Aiello wouldn’t answer questions about the cost of the plan after Monday’s meeting.
And the state’s lawmaking triumvirate — Gov. Charlie Baker, Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo — all have differing opinions on how to pay for the massive overhaul. Baker has already said he opposes any “big increase” in the gas tax. And while DeLeo said the House will take up a transportation revenue bill later this fall, Spilka hasn’t committed to bringing it up in the Senate.
Without their cooperation any initiative, no matter how transformative, is dead.