Baker names panel to recommend fixes for beleaguered MBTA

(AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)

BOSTON (AP) — The region’s public transit system reported progress Friday in restoring service crippled by a string of severe snowstorms, while Gov. Charlie Baker assembled a panel of experts to delve into long-term solutions for the MBTA’s financial and operational woes.

“Let me make this clear. We cannot continue to do the same thing and expect a different result,” said Baker, who has seen much of his first full month in office consumed by storm response and travel chaos resulting from the transit breakdowns.

Baker said the seven-member advisory panel will be chaired by Paul Barrett, the former director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and consist of nationally known leaders in transportation policy including Jane Garvey, who led the Federal Aviation Administration for five years and served as the state’s highway director.

The group will spend the next several weeks trying to get a better understanding of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s management, finances and maintenance backlog, with recommendations due by the end of March, the governor said.

Photo taken aboard the MBTA ferry Massachusetts when it got stuck in the ice. (Photo Courtesy: Nick Puleo / @PuleoTweets)
Ice strands MBTA ferry » (Photo Courtesy: Nick Puleo / @PuleoTweets)

The MBTA said Friday it had restored service on the Red Line between the JFK/UMass station and North Quincy, and was working to open up the rest of the branch to Braintree.

Trolleys were also running again on the E branch of the Green Line, officials said. But delays and cancellations persisted elsewhere in the system, including on several commuter rail lines.

Baker said more than 500 people, including members of the state’s National Guard, were involved in clearing snow from rail tracks. Some parts of Massachusetts have been hammered with more than 8 feet of snow since Jan. 27.

“We haven’t yet dug out from the storms but it’s time to dig into what happened,” said Stephanie Pollack, the state’s secretary of transportation.

The advisory group, she said, will take a “deep dive” into the longstanding problems that plague the MBTA.

The panel is far from the first assembled to examine the T or state transportation policies in general. A 2007 Transportation Finance Commission report painted a “dire picture” of a badly underfunded and under-maintained system; in 2009, a special panel offered a “bleak” financial outlook for the T caused in part by a structural deficit between expenses and revenues.

Asked how this latest review might differ, the governor said he expected the current crisis could help bring key issues to the surface, such as the T’s asset management and maintenance program.

Baker has not said what long-term solutions might be needed, but he has made it clear that he does not believe new taxes are needed to fix the T. Some transportation advocates are less certain of that.

“He will come to see that in order to resolve our MBTA issues and the statewide transportation crisis … revenues have to be on the table,” predicted Josh Ostroff, outreach director for the group Transportation for Massachusetts.

Along with Barrett and Garvey, other members of the panel include Juan Gomez-Ibanez, a Harvard University urban planning expert; Katherine Lapp, former head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York; Robert Gittens, vice president of public affairs at Northeastern University; Brian McMorrrow, chief financial officer for Massport’s aviation division; and Braintree Mayor Joe Sullivan, a former lawmaker and onetime chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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