Managing Assets at MassDOT

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

Longfellow Bridge

MassDOT continues to monitor, repair and replace its existing transportation infrastructure.  Bridges are a key component of the infrastructure and essential for Massachusetts growing economy.  Through data collection, bridge inspections, and daily maintenance, MassDOT knows when each bridge will need to be replaced or rehabilitated.

MassDOT performs a regular and semi-regular inspection of their bridge network.   Funding for the bridge infrastructure looks at ownership and length of the structure.  Collecting bridge attributes and deficiencies allows MassDOT to develop comprehensive of their assets.

Over the past few years, the Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP) has met the challenges to reduce the number of deficient bridges in the Commonwealth.  The goal of this Program is to deliver projects quickly and relies on accelerated bridge construction as a means to reduce road closure durations. There are two specific bridge projects that are looking to accommodate demand and technology for the next generation.  One is in the implementation phase and the other in the research phase, both shining a light on MassDOT’s commitment to accommodating future transportation demand in the Commonwealth.

MassDOT is undertaking the Longfellow Bridge Rehabilitation Project, one of five major projects of the Commonwealth’s ABP. This historic bridge provides vital transportation connections between Boston and Cambridge.  Keeping in-line with the historic character of the bridge, structural deficiencies will be addressed, and multi-modal connections will be improved.

A recently launched MassDOT research project looks more closely at the deterioration of the steel beam ends due to corrosion of leaking bridge joints. Dr. Simos Gerasimidis of UMass Amherst is the Principal Investigator on the project. We asked him to give us some information on the project and the expected outcomes.

“As the Commonwealth’s bridge population ages, MassDOT is witnessing more and more instances of deterioration of the web at steel beams ends due to corrosion as a result of leaking bridge joints. This deterioration reduces the load carrying capacity of beams at a critical point where the beam sits on its bearing. In extreme cases, the web fails and the bridge has to be closed. Therefore, the determination of the remaining load carrying capacity is very important, however, there are no good methods for performing this analysis and so, it has been very difficult to calculate realistic estimates of the remaining capacity of the web. This research aims to first; identify the most common configurations (shapes and locations) of steel beam end deterioration by reviewing detailed inspection reports for various bridges. These patterns will be used to develop advanced computational models for structural analysis and the results of the analysis will be utilized to develop new procedures for determining the safe capacity of deteriorated beam ends that can be incorporated into the MassDOT Bridge Manual.

Secondly, actual steel beams with deteriorated ends will be subjected to full-scale testing at the UMass, Amherst Structural Testing Facility to validate the procedures that are being proposed. Finally, the ultimate goal of the project is to update the current guidelines as they appear in today’s codes.”

Both of these bridge projects will benefit the Commonwealth for years to come.  Combining data analysis and maintenance, with innovation and technology, will continue to keep our infrastructure in good shape.

MassDOT at TRB 2018!

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

Image result for transportation infrastructure repurposing

Nikki Tishler, Transportation Planner and Title VI Strategist for MassDOT, provided great moderating skills at last week’s Transportation Research Board Annual Conference, as she orchestrated the session: Repurposing and Resizing Our Infrastructure: Responsible Investment for the New World.  The presentations and discussions centered on right-sizing the infrastructure for future transportation function, efficiency and service.  DOT’s continue to improve project and asset management processes as they integrate existing and future societal needs with an anticipated reduction in funding.

Transportation Sector – Moving from GHGs to Electricity

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

Gas vs Hybrid

As Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) continue to contribute to climate change, the biggest contributor is now the transportation sector, taking over from the power plants.  This doesn’t mean there are more emissions coming out of tailpipes; rather less coal is being used and an increase in cleaner natural gas are two of the biggest reasons.  In the long-term, the other reason could also include an increase in demand of electric vehicles.

Transportation emissions have been fairly flat since 2000 and with a slight increase since 2012.  This, coupled with an increase in the way electricity emissions are produced, has allowed planes, trains and automobiles to become the lead emitter of GHGs since the late 1970s.  Electricity demand has also leveled off, as the shift has been away from coal and more on natural gas and renewable energy.

Even though electricity demand has leveled off, the increase demand for electric vehicles could change this.  With a minimal but consistent increase over the last couple of years, electric vehicles are expected to widen their reach and even include electric delivery trucks as well. With electric vehicles becoming more affordable, reliant and convenient, this increase in demand could eventually have a big impact on pollution emitted.

There are a couple recently completed MassDOT research publications on GHGs reduction and electric vehicles, written by One Center Research Affiliates Erin Baker and Song Gao.  Also Shannon Greenwell, from the Office of Transportation Planning at MassDOT, is currently working on a review and analysis of low-cost, quick to deploy, and scalable GHG-reducing investment strategies that would supplement traditional capital investments.

Efficiency Needs to Pay the Bills

by Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator


Infrastructure maintenance continues to be costly and finding equitable solutions to pay for it will be challenging.  Historically, infrastructure repairs fell on the revenue made from the gas tax.  The gas tax had been a fair way to have all infrastructure users pay their share.  With the purchase of fuel efficient vehicles (eg. Zero emissions vehicles (ZEV) and battery electric vehicles (BEV)) on the rise, especially out west, relaying on trips to the gas pump to fix the highways is not sustainable.

Currently, eight states have passed bills that include a form of assessment on ZEVs and BEVs.  These assessments include an additional registration fee and/or licensing fees.  These two revenue forms do not demand an upstart cost and are easy to implement.  In-terms of other revenue sources (eg. mileage based fees) a couple of states have discussed introducing a bill for this; but the State of Arizona is the only that tried to pass a bill, but it didn’t get any traction.

Even though the sale of vehicles that have zero or reduced emissions is on the rise, putting something in place to track vehicle distance or mileage is still a ways off.  California, who is leading the nation with the number of ZEVs and BEVs, has recently considered developing a mechanism to tax per mile someone who has one of these vehicles.  Ideas that have been discussed include: tracking your mileage every time you pull up to the gas station or charging station; or retro vehicles with a tracker (collecting miles driven).   Tracking miles would require additional funds for operation and administration.

A recent MassDOT published report by UMTC Research Affiliates Song Gao and Michael Plotnikov titled:  Zero Emission Vehicles: Impacts on Transportation Revenue, states that Massachusetts currently pays for their infrastructure maintenance through a state and federal gas tax, vehicle registration fees, and the purchase and use tax.    MA passed a bill earlier this year, promoting electric vehicle use.  There continues to be discussion in MA about other ways users of ZEV and BEV can financially contribute to maintaining the transportation infrastructure.


MassDOT Kicks Off Research On Options for ADA Paratransit Services

by Melissa Paciulli, Manager of Research and Development

MassDOT is excited to announce the kickoff of the research project titled “Optimizing ADA Paratransit Operations with Taxi and Ride Share Programs.”   This $152k research project has a project kickoff meeting scheduled for December 14th at MassDOT’s Headquarters in Boston.  This project is Championed by Ben Schutzman, from the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), and the research study will be led by Professor Eric Gonzales at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.  The aim of this project is to examine how optimizing programs to serve some paratransit trips by taxi or other mobility service in order to minimize overall system costs.  Rising ridership on Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit services, such as MBTA’s “The Ride”, pose a challenge due to the high costs of operating these required services.

As of March 1, 2017, a pilot program now allows eligible ADA paratransit customers on “The Ride” to use taxicabs, Uber, or Lyft for subsidized trips.  The new research study seeks to gain insights about how the operation and use of the system is changing under the pilot program, and then to provide guidance for managing a multimodal-ADA program that gives customers more ride choices.  Although the scope of the project is tied closely to the MBTA system, the insights from this research are likely to have implications for the ADA paratransit systems elsewhere in Massachusetts.

When contacted recently, Professor Gonzales said, “I am excited to start this project with graduate student Charalampos Sipetas.  The project will allow us to use modeling tools to analyze how coordinating ADA paratransit services with taxis is changing the experience for customers and costs for transit agencies.  Our goal is to identify ways to provide cost-effective and high quality service for customers with disabilities as part of an equitable and sustainable transit system for the Boston region.”

Don’t Get Derailed: The MBTA Is Still a Safe Transit System; Investment in Infrastructure Is Needed to Keep It That Way

By Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow, and Eric Gonzales, Professor, University of Massachusetts-Amherst 

The Green Line had six trolley derailments in 2016, according to the recently updated National Transit Database, and as described in a recent Boston Globe article. Combined with two subway maintenance vehicle derailments, this positioned the MBTA as the transit agency with the most derailments last year in the United States.

So what is behind this data? Why should we look closer?


In 2015, the National Transit Database derailment figures began including derailments of vehicles not intended for passengers, including maintenance vehicles. This increased the MTBA’s reported annual derailments slightly. It is also worth noting that these published figures do not include derailments for commuter rail systems, as those incidences are instead reported to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The MBTA is this country’s fifth-largest mass transit system, based on daily ridership, and has the busiest light rail system (Green Line and Ashmont-Mattapan high-speed line). Derailments are less common for parts of the MBTA system beyond the Green Line. In 2016, the MBTA had its first derailments on the Orange and Red lines since 2001; both derailments involved vehicles that are not for passengers.

Sensationalizing this data only serves to create poor public opinion, and the MBTA leadership feels confident the MBTA system, including the Green Line, is safe. In 2016, none of the derailments resulted from a collision, and no passengers or employees were injured in a derailment. The number of annual derailments for the MBTA is down significantly (over 75%) from a high of 29 derailments in 2007, and the MBTA is committed to reducing derailment on the Green Line further through improved maintenance and monitoring. Even when no one is hurt, derailments impact service delivery and can shut down lines or stations for hours.  They can also undermine riders’ support of and trust in the MBTA.

There are, however, other challenges to the MBTA system, including its age and need for additional funding, as well as for maintenance. The Green Line is the oldest subway line in the United States, with tunnel sections dating back to 1897, and it is one of the oldest light rail systems above ground as well. Other systems topping the 2016 list of derailments include New Orleans and the San Francisco Municipal Railway, which are also historic systems. This is another reminder of the importance of funding investments in maintaining and rebuilding aging infrastructure. The challenge isn’t limited to the MBTA. The U.S. DOT estimates a nearly $90 billion backlog in transit infrastructure maintenance, just to preserve existing systems. In 2015, the MBTA’s maintenance backlog was over $7 billion, and it would need to spend about $765 million annually to eliminate the maintenance backlog over 25 years.

Although rapid transit remains a safe way to travel compared to travel by car, recent crashes on commuter railroads in other parts of the country are drawing attention to the limitations of existing infrastructure. Investments are necessary to ensure safe, reliable, and efficient mobility for the economic competitiveness and vitality of cities like Boston for decades to come.



DC Metro : Getting Back on Track

By Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow

One year ago, in March 2016, the entire Washington, DC, subway system was closed for 29 hours for emergency inspections. This shutdown came after a number of electrical fires oin the subway system, involving fraying third-rail electrical cables. In January 2015, a Washington Metro train encountered heavy smoke near the L’Enfant station due to a third-rail electrical issue and was forced to cease service. One passenger died from smoke inhalation and others were injured. On March 14, 2016, an electrical fire, caused by the same electrical issues as the Nee L’Enfant station incident, occurred near another station. There were fortunately no fatalities. Still, the Metro management shut down subway service a few days later to allow for a system-wide inspection of all third-rail power cables to proactively address system safety before further incidents.

Run by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), Metro is the second-highest use rapid transit system in the United States, behind just  the New York City subway system, in terms of passenger trips, serving over 700,000 riders per weekday.  Metro is just over 40 years old and faces the many of the same challenges as older US transit systems, including inadequate funding and maintenance backlogs.

In May 2016, WMATA introduced SafeTrack, a comprehensive accelerated maintenance and repair program for implementing safety recommendations and needed upgrades to rail infrastructure.  SafeTrack involves the use of “surges,” intensive work on specific sections of the rail network and the shutting down of one or both tracks in those sections during this work, together with the reduction of Metro operating hours at night and on weekends to make more tracks available for maintenance.

Last week, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on its audit of the SafeTrack program.  GAO found that WMATA did not following leading management practices and “(1) comprehensively collect and assess data on its assets, (2) analyze alternatives, or (3) develop a project management plan”  prior to implementing SafeTrack.  In response to the GAO findings, Metro General Manager and CEO Paul Weidefeld stated that WMATA didn’t have time for comprehensive data collection before starting SafeTrack, because safety issues and delayed maintenance had reached a critical point and needed to be addressed as soon as possible. GAO recommends that WMATA develop a full asset inventory and a project management plan for those needed projects that may not qualify as major capital projects.  WMATA is now working to address GAO’s recommendations.

The GAO report found that SafeTrack “will require an additional $40 million in fiscal year 2017 funding.” It is not yet clear where that funding will come from.  Although many transit systems are challenged by inadequate funding, Metro is specifically impacted by one funding issue not faced by other large US transit systems:  Metro has no dedicated funding or revenue sources for its operating budget. WMATA relies heavily on year-to-year subsidies from the governments of Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, which each have budget constraints and funding priorities of their own. In 2016, 47% of Metro’s budget came from local and state subsidies and 45% from fare revenue. In contrast, for the MBTA, 62% of the budget comes from dedicated revenue (such as the sales tax) and 33% from fares.  In New York, the MTA’s budget relies 36% on dedicated funding, 52% on fare revenue, and 8% on local and state subsidies.  WMATA currently has an almost $300 million annual budget gap.


The Federal Transit Authority (FTA) provided some funding for SafeTrack repairs and maintenance. Increasingly, business leaders, DC officials, and others are calling for a dedicated source of funding or regional sales tax surcharge to support Metro operations. So far, these requests have faced opposition from Virginia and Maryland officials.  Proponents argue that dedicated funding is not only important for Metro system safety, but could relieve traffic congestion and spur economic development as well.

Also, last week, board members of Metrolink, the regional rail system in Los Angeles, met with the Metro Board Safety Committee to share Metrolink’s firsthand experience with the importance of making safety a priority.  The Metrolink officials showed a poignant video that Metrolink made following the most deadly crash in Metrolink history, a 2008 crash in which 25 people were killed when a commuter train collided with a freight train.  The video focuses on commitment and responsibilities of the Metrolink board regarding safety.  At the meeting,  Metro board member Michael Goldman suggested Metro could create its own video on the safety in the Metro system for its board members and the public.