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.

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