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Billions Approved For Massachusetts Transportation Projects

BOSTON (AP) — Construction could begin in the near future on several high-profile transportation projects around the state following an agreement reached by legislative negotiators on a $13 billion bond bill.

The deal was reached by a six-member conference committee late Monday and was expected to go before the full House and Senate for votes later in the week.

The bill would authorize the state to borrow for a range of projects, many of which have been on the drawing board for years, including $2.3 billion for the expansion of commuter rail service to the South Coast region of Massachusetts.

The bill also authorizes $325 million for improvements to Boston's South Station, and calls for the regional rail hub to be renamed The Governor Michael S. Dukakis Transportation Center in honor of the former governor and onetime Democratic presidential candidate, who has long advocated for improved passenger rail service.

The compromise also includes up to $1.3 billion for the extension of the MBTA's Green Line to Medford, and $2.5 billion for the purchase of new Red Line and Orange Line trains, with a stipulation that final assembly of the new vehicles be done by a company in Massachusetts. It would also increase penalties for MBTA fare evaders.

The measure authorizes $300 million for local road improvement, $100 million more than had previously been put aside by Gov. Deval Patrick's administration under the state's Chapter 90 municipal road program. Cities and town officials were hoping to receive funds in time for the spring and summer construction season.

"The funding in this bill builds upon last year's transportation finance legislation which is resulting in sustainable, lasting changes and provides cities and towns with the funds they so rightly deserve," Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a statement.

Tucked away in the bill are also dozens of smaller transportation projects, some of which were added to the legislation at the request of individual lawmakers during earlier debate in the House and Senate.

Final passage of the measure would not guarantee that all the projects ultimately go forward, nor is there any timetable for construction to begin. But Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey said last week that the state was ready with a list of priorities once the bond bill was in place.

The transportation agency in January released what it called a first-of-its-kind, five-year $12.4 billion capital improvement plan that included many of the proposals included in the bill.

Prospects for upgrading the state's deteriorating infrastructure got a boost last July when the Legislature approved the transportation financing bill that included higher taxes on gasoline and cigarettes, as well as a tax on computer software services that was later repealed under pressure from technology companies.

While Patrick had sought more financing than what was provided in last year's bill, the administration has welcomed the funding as a key step forward in rebuilding the state's transportation network.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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