The metropolitan area transit system is the current poster child for this built-in dynamic that leads us to put off infrastructure investments. The MBTA is severely underfunded with regard to maintenance and upgrades of the regional bus and subway system. On the Orange Line, 120 cars built between 1979 and 1981 need to be replaced. On the Red Line, 74 cars from 1969 are well past their useful life. More than half of the MBTA’s 82 commuter rail locomotives date to the 1970s, and nearly all are at or past the manufacturer’s recommended lifespan of 25 years.
Public officials, having depleted one-time financial fixes, lurch about for long-term funding solutions, while the system deteriorates more each year. Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, describes this as an “exploding structural gap between revenues and expenses.”
The T has systemwide maintenance needs of about $4 billion, including a backlog of track, vehicle, station, and power demands that require $700 million in investment annually just to keep from getting worse, said Brian Kane, budget and policy analyst for the MBTA Advisory Board, which represents cities and towns served by the T. But the T has rarely spent a sufficient amount on maintenance, even while investing in politically popular expansion projects, Kane said.
“Three trains in two months - that’s pretty bad,’’ Kane said. “We’ve been saying that these breakdowns were going to start happening more and more frequently, because we’ve ignored the needs of the fleet.’’