Massachusetts Drivers to pay $148/year miles tax for Medford and Somerville to get a trolley?

(An oldie but goodie about the Green Line Extwnsion.  Remind me agian why this is a necessary expenditure? – promoted by Rob “EaBo Clipper” Eno)

According to the State House News Service, the Deval Patrick administration has refused to release their February New Starts document provided to the Department of Transportation.  The News Service has obtained a copy of the document by other means.  In the document is outlined a proposal for a cent per mile yearly tax, to pay for the Medford/Somerville Green Line extension.  According to the United States Department of Transportation, the average licensed driver in Massachusetts drives 14,805 miles per year.  This translates to a tax of $148 per year.

By far the largest revenue generator proposed in the application is the new miles traveled fee (VMT), which is expected to generate $555 million in its first year and a total of $11.9 billion at 2011 value over 25 years.

In addition to the miles traveled fee, the debt transfer from the MBTA to the state, and the state’s funding of the new trolley track, the administration has told the federal government it plans to save money in MBTA health care costs, send 40 percent of casino-generated Transportation Infrastructure and Development Fund money to the MBTA and tighten eligibility for The RIDE, a door-to-door transportation service for the elderly and disabled.

To recap, the Green Line extension was mandated as mitigation for the Big Dig project.  The route chosen for the extension is on the Lowell commuter rail line, with a spur on the Framingham line.  An analysis of the plan by Red Mass Group shows that only two of the proposed new Greenline stations are more than a 20 minute walk from another rapid transit station.  

In the figure below the shaded circles represent a one mile radius from an already existing MBTA station: red is for the Red Line, purple is for commuter rail, and orange is for the Orange line, the green circles, not shaded, are for green line stations.  All but Lechmere are proposed stations.

continued after the jump…  

There are only two proposed stations that are not within a 15-20 minute walk of another MBTA station.  Those two stations, Union and Gilman Squares are both on currently active commuter rail lines.  Two new commuter rail stations could possibly take care of any “transit hole” that exists in Somerville.

Transportation expert Charles Chieppo, of the Ash Center at the Kennedy School of Government, said, “I have no problem using VMT as a transportation funding source.  Nor do I take issue with cross-subsidization – in this case, using highway revenue to help fund transit.”

Chieppo continued, “But I have a big problem with using VMT to fund completion of the Green Line Extension, which was among 14 unfunded MBTA expansion projects whose construction was mandated to mitigate non-existent detrimental environmental impacts of the Big Dig.  Today, those billions of dollars in unfunded mandates are the single biggest cause of the T’s fiscal woes.”

Chieppo has a particular problem with mandated mitigaion, “dodging the problem by shifting the burden to drivers for these mitigation requirements, which were the single worst transportation decision of the latter half of the 20th century in Massachusetts, would make it all too easy for state leaders to repeat the mistake and build more assets with no source of funding for their construction, operation or maintenance.  Anyone who doubts it need only look to the Patrick/Murray administration’s ongoing push for South Coast Rail, yet another unfunded multi-billion dollar project.”

Deval Patrick, in an effort to quell a taxpayer firestorm has walked back from his administration’s report.  Telling reporters on Monday that the revenues outlined in the FTA are only “hypotheticals”.

One question that voters could be asking themselves, as they go to the polls in November, is whether or not to vote for politicians that support raising their taxes by $148 on average, to pay for a service that will serve a small portion of the Commonwealth’s residents.  

State House News Service reporting contributed to this story.

About Rob "EaBo Clipper" Eno

  • the many bus lines that service those areas?

    2). Some how my odometer just stopped working.  I have no clue what’s wrong with it.  I’m a protein chemist, not a mechanic.  The State also put a non-functioning tracking device on my car….no idea what’s wrong with it.

  • Rob “EaBo Clipper” Eno

    I didn’t go with this in the main story, but thought you may like it.

  • Vote3rdpartynow

    I heard about this yesterday and immediately many troublesome questions came to mind.

    1. How do they know the miles I travel are in-state?  If not in state can they legally tax/charge me for miles I travel out of state?  What right has the state of MA to tax, or charge, me for miles I travel out of state?

    2. How do they apply this to vehicles from out of state?  Or do all NH, RI, ME travelers get to ride on our roads without a penny per mile tax?

    3. I thought liberals did not like regressive taxes – and this is surely one of them.

    4. Does Deval Patrick have to pay the tax, or do the taxpayers pay as he has a state funded limo drive him to work?  

    5. Get ready for an increase in fares from school bus services, taxi cabs, UPS and Fedex, and any other working class company that uses the roads in Massachusetts.  They did think of this, didn’t they?

    6. Do they charge a penny per mile for roads on which we currently pay a toll?  In other words, when I use the Mass Pike, will I pay the toll and the penny per mile fee as well?  This means that some poor slob in western MA has to pay twice for roads AND subway extensions they will never use.  I thought Deval Patrick was the Governor of the whole state?  Seems he is f*cking over the western half of MA.

    7. Is there anything about my car the liberals in state gov’t won’t tax?  Excise tax, sales tax, gas tax, toll roads, taxes on top of taxes on top of taxes.  

  • Harvard to Union isn’t a 15-20 minute walk.  Google puts it at 27 minutes.  Even that is optimistic, I think.

    Also, walking a 1.3 miles in the rain or snow could slow a person down a tad too.

  • Obviously, the per mile tax is incredibly onerous and will fall much more harshly on people such as myself, who work in sales.

    However, the objections to the GLX in and of itself are not exactly correct.  First of all, the administration of the project is horrendous, that much goes without saying.  Its vastly over budget and behind schedule.  That said, the extension in and of itself is a worthwhile project.

    First, the areas where the route is closest to the Orange Line are also the areas where the geography (in particular, I-93) most impede pedestrian traffic from reaching the Orange Line. Walking from Lechmere to Community College, for example, is not exactly practical, even though, as the crow flies, they’re very close.

    Second, your map quite accurately shows that there is a fairly large gap between the Orange and Red Lines.  This gap comprises a very large portion of Somerville.  The entire reason those concentric circles are useful is because they show, roughly, how far people are willing to walk to the train.  That some of the proposed stations are actually within reasonable walking distance of existing stations doesn’t mean that the areas covered by the proposed stations are within walking distance of existing stations; in fact, they are not, as the map shows.

    Third, take a look at the lower right corner where you’ll see many many stations clumped together; if the map showed their radii, they’d all be overlapping like some mutant Venn Diagram.  And yet, those are the most heavily used stations in the entire system.  Now, true, Somerville is not downtown Boston.  It is, however, the most densely populated city in New England.

    As for comparisons to the commuter rail, the green line simply provides a completely different service.  The commuter rail is for longer trips, on relatively infrequent schedules, and with higher fares.  The rapid transit lines are just that: rapid.  They’re supposed to be relatively frequent and cheap.  You can’t run a full locomotive train through Somerville nearly as often or cheaply as you can run a light rail line.

    And the comparison to buses… buses get stuck in traffic, plain and simple.  Other than the sections of the Green line that run in-street, the rapid transit lines don’t ever have to deal with traffic.  Plus, passengers simply feel safer on trains than buses.

    Again, the project is being horribly mismanaged and needs some serious shaking up.  But that doesn’t mean that there’s an inherent problem with expanding transit access to Somerville.  The worst part about all this, in my opinion, is that the bureaucrats are screwing this all up so badly, when it should be a comparatively easy project, that they won’t be doing any of the other needed improvements to the system anytime soon.

    This should be a very easy project, all things considered: Lay additional tracks along an existing right of way, run some overhead power lines, and build some stations.  There’s almost no demolition work to be done (except by Lechmere), no lawns to cut through, no nothing.  The stations would seem to be the hardest part, except that they’re building the Assembly Square station and Yawkey station very quickly and effectively.  Oh, and New Balance is getting started on a new station over in Brighton, for a very large complex they’re working on.  And yet, the whole thing is going to run probably a decade plus behind.

    Sorry if I went on for a bit there, but this is one of my pet topics.

  • I’m sure the same question was raised about extending the Red Line from Harvard to Alewife.  After all, the 77 bus and a few others probably covered most of the area along that route.  Looking at that extension today, is it really something you can imagine the MBTA being without?

  • my car’s odometer stopped working, the tracking chip in the inspection sticker is busted…..and my car joins the rest parked in driveways all around my MA town that are registered in NH.

  • Residents of the South Coast have no access to the T yet we are being forced to pay for it with our tax dollars. South Coast residents tax dollars should be allocated to pay for transportation  projects they can actually benefit from instead of being forced to pay for something we will never use.

  • Ryan

    I’ve read, apparently they’re planning on full blown stations with turnstiles.  Is there a reason they can’t just put in cheaper slabs of concrete like other above ground station to the west on the green line?

    Certainty there’s a way to get this done, but cheaper.  Right of Way isn’t even an issue, which typically is the biggest hurdle and cost in these types of projects.