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Fifteen Years? Figure out a faster way to fix the T

September 12, 2018

Fixing the T can’t wait.

But Governor Charlie Baker would have Massachusetts commuters believe that the public will have to wait 15 years to upgrade all of the MBTA’s crumbling infrastructure, from stations to parking garages. And even sticking to that timeline, by the Baker administration’s admission, would be a “big challenge.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

Massachusetts deserves better. This state boasts one of the country’s strongest economies. Marquee companies, from Amazon to General Electric, have expanded or moved their headquarters here. Reliable transit is — and will be — a key to the region’s continued success.

We have lost sight of that. It’s as if the state has been in a defensive crouch about the MBTA for so long — decades of neglect spanning multiple administrations — that everyone is resigned to the fact that a malfunctioning transit system is a way of life here.

Enough of that thinking.

Commuters should not have to put up with elevators that have been out of service for months, falling concrete at the Alewife parking garage, or leaky ceilings at various stations. “The T’s properties are often the neighborhood eyesore,” wrote Globe reporter Adam Vaccaro in a sadly familiar piece this week.

The Baker administration has already moved in the right direction, reducing the backlog from 25 years to 15 years. Now the governor should set out a plan to repair the T much faster, even if it requires more money, people, or inconvenience during construction projects.

The state is in a position to do this in large part because of what Baker has done so far. When the Republican came into office in 2015, he took on the intractable problems of the T after a spate of snowstorms crippled subways, commuter rail, and buses, leaving the region in gridlock for weeks on end. He went to battle with the Legislature for a control board and more privatization, in an effort to sharpen operations and extract accountability from the agency. The administration has put together a five-year, $8.1 billion capital plan — one that builds on initiatives of previous administrations to buy new Red and Orange Line cars and extend the Green Line into Somerville.

But the Baker administration has been reluctant to ask for a big influx of cash. Officials insist it doesn’t have the staffing to spend more money, even if it had it.

So then, why not hire more staff?

The public deserves a detailed strategy to fix the T faster. Maybe managerial magic can get repairs done more quickly with the existing budget, but if it takes more money, Baker could draw on any number of ideas: regional ballot initiatives that would allow communities to vote for higher taxes to pay for transportation projects; transportation improvement districts that raise money from property owners who benefit from transit amenities; raising the gas tax or replacing it with a tax based on mileage; raising the surcharge levied on ride-hailing services, which are now only 20 cents per ride.

Any of those would require buy-in from the Legislature, which also needs to deliver solutions for the MBTA’s woes. The business community — which depends on quality transit to attract and retain workers — should insist on a faster timetable and be ready to get behind potentially unpopular revenue-raising moves.

“Everything should be on the table,” said Jim Rooney, the president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

That’s the all-hands-on-deck attitude that Baker needs to adopt also. Fifteen years is too long, and good enough isn’t good enough.

Read this piece on BostonGlobe.com