Massachusetts Infrastructure: You Want It, You Fund It

As a perpetual patron of public transportation, I have been watching the MBTA’s Green Line extension saga with a close eye. I remain optimistic about the likelihood of the project coming to fruition and the most recent update gives me further confidence for the future of transit expansion.

As with any public infrastructure project, cost is a potential roadblock to be overcome. Not that anyone in this area needs the reminder, but the Big Dig’s cost overruns set the standard for infrastructure headaches and remains the elephant in the room. So, what is to be done about the Green Line extension’s $1 billion budget gap?

Dante Ramos of The Boston Globe penned a nice piece on this issue and outlined a couple of pieces of legislation that could not only satisfy the project’s financial needs but also chart a new course for how we, in Massachusetts, fund infrastructure projects.

The first item would allow municipalities to jointly put a special tax up for vote for “financing regional transportation needs and investments.” As Ramos points out, we’re already seeing a form of this with the Green Line extension as the cities of Somerville and Cambridge have offered up $75 million to cover costs.

The second item would be a tax increment on properties deemed likely to gain value in response to the infrastructure work. This seems a practical response to what we’re currently seeing in the market where “property values on sites within a half mile of the proposed Green Line stops increased 20 percent faster than Somerville as a whole.” It’s not just existing housing, though. Sphere, a new 42-unit housing development that’s banking on a luxury audience (1-bedroom units start at $2,300) moving out to the Ball Square neighborhood to live near a T stop, just broke ground.

Together, these ideas present a sensible solution to the question of “how will we pay for it,” regardless of what “it” entails. Simply put, this legislation acknowledges that certain areas benefit from the work and as such, residents and businesses in these areas should help finance that work. Residents, business and property owners should be doing everything in their power to support the Green Line Extension given the positive impact it will bring.

The legislation is still pending, and it is my hope that Beacon Hill sees its benefits that it will become the standard for infrastructure financing.

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