In the spirit of governor-elect Patrick’s “Streamlining Spending: Improve Budget Transparency” goal, I’d like to highlight a large spending initiative that I don’t foresee delivering a powerful positive influence.
The front page of today’s Boston Globe announces that state officials have agreed as part of a lawsuit settlement to build a $264 million link between the Government Center and Charles/MGH T stops.
While I feel the pain of commuters coming from Revere and support fresh air and fewer cars on the road as much as the next person, I need more convincing that is the best way to spend $264 million. Am I alone?
Governor-elect Patrick mentions “Smart growth” in almost every one of his policy papers. He seems to be particularly interested in transit-oriented development. (I’m guessing that is partly lieutenant governor-elect Tim Murray’s influence.)
The 0.4-mile stretch that this new tunnel will require is a safe, easy walk down Cambridge Street in nice weather (shorter if you get off at Bowdoin). It’s also only about an additional 10 minutes if you go Government Center-Park Street-MGH. My point is, if the area around Government Center and MGH is already walkable and transit-oriented, two key tenets of smart growth, is there really a pressing need for this major initiative?
Perhaps oddly, I’m a bigger fan of two other recent MBTA announcements which cost more. However, I believe they deliver a more tangible impact and are aligner closer to the Patrick administration’s (movement’s?) goals.
The first came last week and detailed a litany of smaller, $1.5-$6.5 million improvements to existing infrastructure. The focus there seems to be on public safety at existing stations (more lighting, cleaner facilities… very “broken windows” theory) as well as more efficient uses of energy, faster service, and greater accessibility for disabled persons.
Those investments align snugly with Governor-elect Patrick’s stated goals of “Environment: Practice What We Preach”, “Cities and Towns: Improve Public Transportation” and “Disability: Enforce the ADA”. Perhaps more importantly, they build momentum for the MBTA within the communities they serve. Anyone who rides the T with any regularity can attest to the frustration caused by slow service or delays. It makes great business sense to focus on “replacing aging rails and switches and upgrading power sources” which allows the T to “to lift existing speed restrictions, and allow trains to operate at increased speeds.”
Among those communities who should see faster and more reliable service are the MGH employees coming from Revere and other locations on the Blue Line.
The second MBTA announcement I’m in favor of was described in the same Boston Globe article: the $559 extension of the Green Line to Medford Hills with a spur to Somerville’s Union Square. This is an enormous sum of money, but it also addresses perhaps the greatest unmet need by the MBTA subway sytem. One only has to look at the map of the T’s routes to see where the T lines don’t run: Somerville, a city with a population of over 77,000 and the highest population density in New England.
The Green Line extension is a very real commitment to “Housing: Support Transit-Oriented Development”, directing public transportation where the public lives. Strict adherence to the goals of the new administration would suggest that focus on this project and the smaller improvements MBTA-wide are the right uses of this money.
One of Governor-elect Patrick’s first actions in office will be to submit a budget. The budget is a moral document that defines the priorities of a community. Mr. Patrick seems to place two initiatives as his top priorities: 1,000 new police officers ($85 million) and expanding the “circuit-breaker” tax break to 89,000 senior citizens ($60 million). He has been criticized for not being able to afford those programs. I think I know where he can get that $145 million and have $119 million to spare.