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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Anybody home?

When people in Boston point at government serving them poorly, they often point to the MBTA. Erratic schedules, surly employees, a sense that they are merely inconveniences standing in the way of quitting time.

The absolute tin political ear of MBTA boss Dan Grabauskas doesn't help.

Crushed by a debt load that, to be fair, was not of his making, Smilin' Dan continues to make decisions that leave the mind reeling. One day after the Globe revealed the MBTA was going with an untried and untested manufacturer for commuter rail cars, the Globe reports today that Grabauskas is planning to move forward with a $1.2 billion proposal to build a tunnel for the last piece of the Silver Line.

Again, fairness demands noting that the project is part of the mitigation package agreed to in exchange for building the Big Dig.

But common sense requires asking why not press for a reopening of that agreement instead of pushing ahead at a time when the MBTA has no money and is already overextended by major capital renovation projects.

Not to mention a time when people are just getting used to traffic patterns after more than a decade of disruption for a construction project that has put the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority on the edge of collapse and promises ever-more soaring costs on a small subset of commuters to pay for it.

To my mind, the Silver Line is a neat idea that has failed to meet it potential.

The concept of a mass transit vehicle with a dedicated right-of-way making limited stops is a great one. It's called a subway or trolley. The reality of the Silver Line is that for most of its dedicated right-of-way, it is struck in traffic.

I'd love to know the user statistics for the grand Courthouse and World Trade Center stations -- and the tunnels that connect them to South Station and the airport terminals. The handful of times I've taken the bus to the Seaport, I have either found myself crushed worse than a sardine on the Green Line or with the whole vehicle to myself.

Building a $1.2 billion tunnel through one of the busiest and most historic parts of the city also strikes me as folly. And I am not alone.
"The people that rely on the T the most, people of low income and communities of color, would mainly be the ones paying for this project, and they can't afford it," said John Cater, a member of the T Riders Union, which is based in Roxbury.
And let's assume, foe the sake of argument, that we somehow miraculously find the money. Does anyone believe the MBTA will bring this project in on time and one budget? Can you say Kenmore Station?

Before we get knee-deep in another disaster, can someone please take the time to talk -- and think?

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Blogger Eric said...

"untried and untested":

They're rail cars. They roll on rails and hold seats. Furthermore, if you'd bothered to RTFA, you'd note that we're THIRD in line for rail cars from this particular source, Rotem. Thus, they'll be old hands at this by the time they get around to our 37 million-dollar-cheaper bid.

Give the MBTA some credit for (on one occasion), potentially getting it right.

October 14, 2008 2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this Grabauskus quote from the Globe article is instructive:

"One of the things that we're required to do is keep advancing the project under the legal obligations. We have, and we've made no secret that debt is one of the drivers of our financial problems and, realistically, this does not make things any better," he said.

THe man has said he is quitting once his term is up. I get the sense he is just trying to do his job until then.

Also, regarding that article, I didn't catch any description of the MBTAs debt as largely being a result of the big dig. If i were Grabauskus I would have suggested that maybe the turnpike authority could shoulder the debt.

October 15, 2008 10:11 AM  

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