With lawmakers back on Beacon Hill after the summer break, Gov. Charlie Baker is gearing back up to tackle some of the state's most pressing issues including transportation, affordable housing and education funding. WGBH Morning Edition Host Joe Mathieu sat down with Baker on Friday to talk about his plans for the upcoming year. They met in the governor's ceremonial office, an ornate room painted green and full of Massachusetts history. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.

Joe Mathieu: I hope you had a great summer. It's back to reality — everyone's back to work and school. We've been talking about the MBTA for months, and you’ve surely been hearing about it and talking about it yourself. Now that we're actually seeing masses of people get back on the trains, you've rolled out some pretty dramatic and bold plans to fix the system, including an $18 billion proposal you have to shore up infrastructure. And now we're shutting things down on weekends to make repairs to the system that probably should've been done a long time ago. Do you feel like you have your arms around this? Can you tell people that this is the plan to fix the T?

Gov. Charlie Baker: Well, keep in mind that we've been working this plan for a while. I remind people that the first time the T ever spent a billion dollars on its capital program was two years ago. Second time they ever spent a billion dollars on their capital program was last year, and the third time they're going to spend a billion dollars on their capital programs going to be this year.

And there's no question that we're playing tons of catch up. A lot of this stuff on the T is 50, 60, 70 years old. I think the big thing for us was we were trying to do as much of the work at night and on weekends as we possibly could to limit the amount of disruption associated with people's ability to get where they needed to go. And I think, for us anyway, the Red Line issue with the signal boxes was a moment where we all got together afterwards and said, We may have to take some more severe measures to accelerate work here, and to literally shut down certain parts of the system for weekends, shut down certain parts of the system for longer periods of time than we've been shutting it down and accelerate the work. There will be shutdowns on the weekends this fall on the T. In fact, I think the first one starts this weekend. And they're going all the way through this weekend to pretty much after Thanksgiving. I think you're going to see this happen again in the spring and again in the summer of next year.

The way to think about this is, if you shut something down for a week, you can do in a week what would normally take you a month. If you can shut down something on an extended basis for a month, you can do what would normally take you a year. For us, the big issue here has always been the question: How do you manage the disruption with the desire to get work done? And last summer, the T did a lot of work on the commuter rail, where they shut down the commuter rail on the weekends on certain lines — shut down completely — and did a pretty decent job of using buses as the alternative form of transportation, and did a pretty decent job on communication. On a lot of the stuff that they've done that's involved deeper into the morning work or earlier in the evening work, they've done a pretty good job through the spring of this year in communicating and making sure people knew what was going on.

I think our view was, we think they can handle the communication requirements. We think if we and they are strategic about when and where you shut down certain lines for certain periods of time and have alternatives put in place, we should be a lot more aggressive about this. I do think it will make a big difference with respect to speed associated with the work.

But there's an $8 billion program over the next five years, which would be the biggest spend in T history over any five-year period by far. [It's] a billion dollars on the Green Line, it's a billion dollars on the Red Line, [and] it's a billion dollars on the orange line. I mean, it's big money. It's new trains, new tracks, new power systems, new signals — all the stuff that makes people crazy. In addition to that, it's a ton of new capacity. By the time this gets fully rolled out over the next several years, you're talking about adding 100,000 seats to the rapid transit system. About half the bus system has now been replaced. The average age of the average bus when we took office was over 12 years. We're going to continue to upgrade the bus infrastructure, and with that will come more hybrid buses and some electric buses, as well. And the commuter rail is running 10,000 more trips than it was running when we took office because the T reconditioned a whole ton of locomotives, reconditioned a bunch of coaches [and] added capacity to a bunch of the lines. But one of the things they're going to do, in addition to accelerate some of the track work, is they're going to accelerate the purchase of bi-level coaches so that on some of the busier lines, they'll be able to basically double the number of seats that are available.

Mathieu: Double decker cars, you're talking about?

Baker: Double decker cars, which will make it possible for them to double the capacity of some of the busier commuter lines. So there's a lot going on there and I'm pleased with the planning and the sense of urgency, but obviously this is all going to be about execution and follow through.

Mathieu: You've said before, you just suggested, and it's true, you inherited this one. These are problems that have gone back decades that have built to now. After five years in office though, do you feel like you own this?

Baker: Oh, of course. The first thing people said to me when I started talking about wanting to take on some of the reform issues on this is, If you do this, you own it. And I get that. But the bottom line from my point of view is if we didn't decide to embrace this stuff and do it, we'd own it anyway, and we wouldn't have spent a billion dollars on the capital program two years ago or a billion dollars last year or a billion this year. And I think in some respects, the way I think about this is, the big thing I was nervous about was this issue around disruption and literally shutting stuff down and coming up with alternative measures for people and doing a good job of communicating what those options were. But I think our view is at this point, we're just going to have to do that to get a lot of the work that needs to get done as quickly as it needs to get done.

Mathieu: Do you talk to Mayor Walsh about this? He’s had a couple of tough statements about it and suggested it's not a functioning system for his city. And I know you guys tend to have a good relationship.

Baker: We talk a lot to the mayor about it. And they're pretty regular meetings scheduled at this point between the mayor and his team, and the folks at the T, the general manager and Secretary Pollock, and I would expect that will continue. Some of these accelerated work projects are going to have an impact on when the T's open, when it's available and all the rest, so it's really important that the city know exactly what's going on with respect to that as well.

But there are also conversations that go on with the city about things like designated bus lanes and rapid bus service, which we have now done on an experimental basis in a number of places, including in Boston. They've proven to be really effective at moving a lot of people during rush hour a lot more effectively and efficiently than automobiles. It's my hope that we can dramatically expand the designated bus lane activity that we've got going.

Mathieu: You had a report that made a lot of news that suggested we have reached a "tipping point" in congestion, which may not have been news to you or a lot of people who sit in traffic all day. That's been the backdrop for a lot of things you're proposing for the roads as well. You mentioned the bus lanes, but also adding these opt-in lanes that you've talked about on highways. Is that the answer to congestion? Critics say adding more lanes invites more traffic and then you get back in the same fix. I'm sure you've heard that.

Baker: I have. A good example of that would probably be Route 3 North to the New Hampshire border. You may remember that I worked in the Weld administration back in the 90s, and we put together the financing plan for that project. We added a lane on each side from 128 to the New Hampshire border. The reason for that was people felt that that would help deal with the capacity. Well, we built it, and it wasn't very long before it was all filled up again. There was an expansion that was done on Route 128 somewhere between Newton and Dedham. Four years, it filled up almost immediately. So there's legitimacy to that.

But what we've been talking about is adding a managed lane, which has now been done in a bunch of different places around the country. The idea behind a managed lane is there's usually one in each direction. You don't take a lane away, but you run one in each direction. And it is a pay-to-play lane, except for buses and van pools, who basically get to run free through those. So if people want to take the bus or the van pool, they can take it. Once you put that lane in place, it will take vehicle traffic off of the existing system, and since you're not taking away a lane, it will make the traffic better on the existing system. There are a bunch of different ways that people manage the lane. In some places, the way they manage the lane is they only sell a certain number of transponders to use the lane, thereby ensuring that the traffic flow in the lane will continue to be positive. The other way people do it is the price associated with traveling in the lane goes up or down depending upon the amount of traffic volume that's in it.

Mathieu: We've seen that on the Beltway in Washington, where it's been working, right?

Baker: Most of the places where people have done this have taken some of the heat off the existing roadways and they've created a mechanism that makes it possible for people who are willing to pay — or ride a bus — to be able to get in and out of wherever it is they're going more quickly. The thing I like about it is, people make a voluntary decision about how they want to play. I prefer that to some of the other proposals people have made. If you have to drop your kids off at school, you have to be at work at a certain time or you have to be home at a certain time or you have to pick your kids up at daycare or drop them off at daycare, I don't like the idea behind just establishing a price and saying everybody has to pay it at a certain time. I don't think that's fair, especially to people who can't manage their schedules for a whole bunch of perfectly legitimate reasons.

Mathieu: So then you hear people call it the "Lexus "Lane" or the VIP lane or something like that — that there's now some sort of class structure on the road. Can you mitigate that by using the revenue from the opt-in lane for mass transit?

Baker: Yes. But in addition to that, you can also ride a bus or hop on a van pool, which doesn't pay at all. But the answer is yes, you can also use it to fund additional projects in transportation as well, including things like additional public transportation.

Mathieu: This is like the cause of our time, is it not? Traffic and transportation. This is what you're going to be known for.

Baker: Well, I would hope I would be known for turning the corner on the opioid epidemic, which was certainly front and center when we took office and an issue I heard about everywhere I went. And I really hope we get a housing production bill done. We now have the dubious distinction of having the highest median home prices and the highest median rents in the country. I like being number one, okay? We're number one in all kinds of categories. I don't like being number one in this one.

Mathieu: And this plays into transportation, correct? Because you're talking about building around transportation hubs outside of the city.

Baker: Transit-oriented development, we've done a bunch of it. I would like to do a bunch more. But we also just simply need production. We produce less than half the number of units of new housing starts for the last 25 years that we used to produce every year for 50 years. We've added 600,000 people to our population since 2000. We haven't added anywhere near that kind of housing capacity. So what ends up happening is, we don't have much inventory, the inventory we have when it goes on the market gets bid up and it forces people of moderate and modest means to live farther away to actually find a place that they can afford. Then they have to travel a longer distance to get to wherever it is they're going to work, school or whatever else it might be.

I think the bill we have before the legislature has the support of the home builders, the real estate folks, the land use folks, the metropolitan area planning councils, big chunks of the environmental community and the affordable housing advocates. I mean, everybody gets the fact that we need to produce a lot more housing. By the way, the Mass Municipal Association has endorsed this and the metro mayors have endorsed it. Almost all local officials have endorsed it as well, because it gives them tools to do things like rethink their downtowns. Vibrant communities have strong downtowns, and the thing that always held downtowns together was retail. Retail can't be the answer anymore the way it used to be because of the changing nature of retail generally, which as we all know, has gone more and more to the online space. So what communities have started to do all over the country, and a little bit here, is create what we would describe as "live, work, play downtowns." That means housing, office space, some hospitality, some retail, open space, parks.

Mathieu: But anchored by a transportation hub?

Baker: Often anchored by transportation hub.

Mathieu: Is this statewide or Greater Boston area?

Baker: This would be for everybody. This is not just a Greater Boston issue. The first event we did on our housing legislation was in East Hampton, which has had a terrible time getting housing production there when they need it. The thing that makes us interesting is there are so many people of a certain age who would love to be able to stay in the community that they raised their kids in and downsize, but there isn't any housing that looks like that in their communities. That's the sort of thing that we need more of. We also need more apartment-type housing for young people. We need more housing for young families.

When people say to me, What kind of housing are you trying to find here? I want all kinds of housing. I want affordable housing, workforce housing, single family housing, young individual housing, senior housing. I mean, every single piece of this housing mosaic is underserved right now and we need tons of production. We're not going to get it unless we change some of the rules, which have been in place for decades. Every year for the last several years, we've watched lots and lots of really good housing projects that had a majority amount of support in their communities go down because in Massachusetts, you can't build new housing in virtually any community without a two-thirds vote of whatever the governing entity is. That means it's ruled by the minority, which is a big problem.

Mathieu: I'd love to ask you about education funding because this is another big ball of something we can't figure out and it's been going on for a long time. You rolled out a billion dollar proposal at the beginning of the year and at the time said you wanted this passed by the end of this year. I know it came with your budget proposal. It's not figured out yet. Is that even possible with this legislature to have it done this year?

Baker: The thing people should keep in mind here is we did what I call Education Reform 1.0 back in the mid-1990s, and it was a trade. A lot more funding from the state and an equalization of funding and the creation of something called the Foundation Budget for every community. The best way to think about this is, wealthier communities get a little less than they would otherwise get from the state and poor communities get more. I mean, that's how you create a foundation budget for everybody. And accountability standards: curriculum frameworks, professional development requirements, assessment exams for kids at the third, eighth and tenth grade levels, [and] graduation requirement for MCAS.

Massachusetts, when that law got passed back in the 90s, was in the middle of the pack nationally. We've been number one now for seven or eight years. Top performer in K-12 education in the country. That is the work of a lot of people over the course of the past 25 years, but it was also built on this framework of a foundational budget and a commitment to accountability and standards. There was a report done a couple of years ago that said we need to make some changes to the way the foundation budget gets calculated, especially for school districts that have a significant number of English Language Learner students, low income students or special ed students, and there needed to be an adjustment to deal with the cost of health care for communities. Our bill deals with that. There are several others before the legislature that do as well. We also believe we should be doing more early college programs, which have turned out to be an incredibly effective way to help kids — especially in gateway cities — kick the tires on whether or not they can do collegiate work. It connects the high schools in those communities to their local community colleges or their local colleges and universities, which turns out to be a really good thing in terms of helping kids transition. Acceleration academies targeted assistance. There are a lot of things that are working in a lot of these communities that have struggled over the last few years, and that whole thing is what ought to be part of this package.

Mathieu: But you believe the lion's share of money should go to the gateway cities first?

Baker: I think the lion's share of the money should definitely go to the communities who deal with the most significant number of English Language Learners, low poverty and special ed kids.

Mathieu: How do you pay for it is the question, right?

Baker: Well, our bill's basically funded. It's a seven-year rollout. That's what the original education reform bill was. I think the legislature in good faith is working this one. But there are 351 cities and towns, there are 160 members of the House and there are 40 members of the Senate. They all represent districts that are really interested in this. They don't want to end up on the wrong end of it. They know that it's a really big deal back home, and figuring out how to make all those pieces fit together is hard. I do believe that there will be an Education 2.0 bill during this legislative session. I don't know if it will be by the end of this calendar year or by the end of the session. For purposes of the next school year, which starts in a year from now, I think there will be a bill in place and I think it will basically address most of the issues that people have been talking about.

I would also just point out that we have added $750 million in additional state aid to K-12 education over the course of the past four or five years. And in this past budget that we signed in July, it was a $265 million increase, which is one of the biggest year over year increases. It's a 5 percent increase in state aid to cities and towns. So there's a lot of good faith around here on this one and I do believe it will get done. It's complicated, but I do believe it'll get done.

Mathieu: Gov. Baker, it's amazingly been a year since the Merrimack Valley gas fires. I'm sure you remember being up there yourself in that first 24 hours and how harrowing that was. A lot's been done since then. I know there are more inspectors and I know that you've changed a number of procedures in the way these things are done. So can you say today that there could not be another Merrimack Valley?

Baker: Well, I can certainly say that there are lessons learned from Merrimack Valley and those lessons have been incorporated into both the DPU's regulations. But there's also been, as you pointed out, a significant increase in inspectors and in engineering talent at the DPU to ensure that the work that's being done on the system is being done safely. In addition to the work we've been doing at the state level, the federal government made a series of preliminary recommendations to the commonwealth based on their inspections of what happened and all of those have been implemented. We also brought in a third party who did some sort of forensic work on the gas explosion that took place in California to make recommendations around safety protocols and procedures here, and we've implemented their recommendations as well. They have a second report coming out, I think toward the end of this year, that will be helpful to any additional things we need to do.

I certainly think it was a horrible experience for everybody involved and a tragic experience for some, but I do think people have done a really good job of learning from it and making good on the commitments that were made to the families and businesses up in Merrimack Valley. And I do believe the protocols, procedures, policies and people that are in place now are in a much better place than they were before.

Mathieu: I know it's a procedure story, but it's just another infrastructure story as well, right? We're just an old state with a lot of old stuff. Things like this happen.

Baker: That's what the second part of the independent survey that the DPU has out right now is about, which is the state of the infrastructure. [The] first one was about rules, policies, procedures, programs [and] all that stuff. The second one is about the actual state of the infrastructure. And we're looking forward to seeing what they have to say about that.

Mathieu: Lastly, Gov. Baker, I'll just have to ask you about the political season that you're no stranger to. I'm sure you're glad to not be running a campaign right now, but a lot of other people are and they'd love to have your endorsement. I just wonder if you plan to get involved in the next year in this political season or if you will intentionally be on the sidelines.

Baker: I think my job is to worry about the stuff that you and I talk about: transportation, education [and] health care — we're going to be doing some on health care this fall — and all those other issues that are sort of fundamental to what goes on in the 351 cities and towns here in the commonwealth. That is why I wanted the job. It's why I'm grateful the voters are giving me a chance to do it and that's [going to] be my focus. People will make decisions about candidates running for office and that's as it should be. But I'm [going to] focus on my job.

Mathieu: Are you comfortable with the idea of a second Trump term?

Baker: Like I said, I don't want to get involved. Presidential politics are [going to] be really important to the people of Massachusetts and the people of the country. But the assignment on that one is on them. My job is to do the best I possibly can to make sure people have the quality of life, the opportunity to make a living and [a] high quality community to live in here in Massachusetts. That's going to be my focus.