Leadership is scarce in the transportation system in Massachusetts.
By that, I emphatically do not mean that the current leadership is weak. On the contrary, I think Governor Baker has put in a superb bi-partisan team at the top of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and that there are many great civil servants in the ranks below them.
Rather, I mean that every management team has a finite capacity to plan and to solve problems and that the range of challenges facing MassDOT’s management team is very broad. The issues that are breaking news — the uncertain future of the Green Line extension and the safety culture that allows a runaway train — are just a few among the many they face across the state.
As an advocate for my district, I add to their challenges by identifying new needs and problems. They are in a superior position to evaluate how high my requests should sit on their priority list, but as a senator, I have found that I have enough power to distract them. I have come to understand that I should use that power very carefully. I frequently communicate that they should feel free to say “no” or “not now” to me — either because of financial constraints or simply because of management bandwidth constraints.
Here are some of the major projects in my district that have demanded top management attention:
- The ongoing core capacity planning study, which I initiated to identify the transportation bottlenecks of the future for the urban core (including Back Bay and Longwood which I represent).
- The massive turnpike interchange project which will create a huge new neighborhood in Allston along the Charles. The projected cost of the project has risen to half a billion while the project is still in the planning stage and several very different alternative approaches remain live options.
- The crumbling but crucial Bowker overpass which carries over 50,000 cars a day from Storrow into the Fenway. There have been ongoing controversies over its very existence, ongoing frustrations for neighbors with the rehabilitation project noise and inconvenience, and repeated slips in planning for parkland underneath to follow rehabilitation.
- Ongoing efforts to upgrade the existing Green Line. I have given the new management team some space to get their arms around their portfolio of problems, including the extension, before insisting on new public dialog about Green Line service, but will absolutely continue to push on this.
- The 71 bus to Watertown and the 73 bus to Waverley. Local legislators have initiated a major intersection study of Mount Auburn Street where it crosses Fresh Pond Parkway which has the potential to greatly improve bus service on Mount Auburn Street. (This is mostly a DCR project, but required MassDOT funding.)
- The Arsenal Corridor study, which Representative Hecht has initiated has brought top management out to consider how to support rapid growth in Watertown.
- The reconstruction of the Belmont Street/Trapelo Road corridor. This project should wrap up in the next construction season, but there are still design problems in Cushing Square which are demanding management attention.
- The possible closure of the Waverley Commuter rail stop, which presents the MBTA with a tough choice about whether to invest in a relatively low ridership station at a time when there are many other pressing needs.
Across all of these projects, the top management of MassDOT has been responsive to me and to my colleagues in the House of Representatives who serve the same constituents. And I am just one of 40 Senators.
As MassDOT leadership makes decisions about long-term priorities, I am heartened that they are taking a disciplined, standards-based approach, as opposed to merely responding to the loudest advocates. I will continue to advocate passionately, but respectfully, for the transportation needs of my district.