Monday, November 10, 2008

Transportation shake-up

For years I thought eliminating the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority was a good idea. In fact, I believe it was supposed to be dissolved after paying off its initial bonds, years ago, but we know how state government tends to work toward self preservation.

While the Pike and MBTA have been in debt for years, Massport makes money, so my idea was to bring them all together under the umbrella of the state's Executive Office of Transportation, which includes the Mass. Highway Department and the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The other reason I consider this a good idea is that having Massport under the direct control of elected officials would make the authority more sensitive to public opinion. is reporting that Gov. Patrick has a plan to dismember the Pike, turning everything west of Route 128 over to the state highway department, while Massport would take over the roadway from 128 to the airport. The Port Authority, which already controls the Tobin Bridge, would gain all three harbor tunnels.

I guess this is an improvement on the current state of things, though I'd like to see the entire plan and to hear feedback. The first concern that I see is that I don't trust Massport and this proposal gives the agency more power. Quasi-government authorities can be monsters, and through the years this particular one has been monstrous.

This reshuffle seems to do little to help the MBTA, which provides valuable services to many people. At a time when more residents are turning to public transportation, the state should shore up and help out that agency. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't see a lot of cushy white-collar jobs associated with the T. It's here to serve, at a reasonable price, people who don't have vehicles or who are leaving those vehicles at home. Shouldn't we support that mission more aggressively?


John said...

Putting it all under EOT sounds like a good idea, although, as you said, devil is in the details. Putting it under Massport.... well I think most East Boston residents would say the devil is in Massport.

If these "quasi-public" agencies (like the BRA as well) had some actual accountability and limited access to powers like eminent domain, perhaps it would be a good idea. When you think of how much "homeland security" weight is potentially getting tossed behind Massport, it can really make you feel queasy.

N.starluna said...

I agree with John that the real issue is accountability. However, we should feel some comfort in recent federal court decisions which said that agencies (public or quasi-public) can't just say that they are doing something (or not doing something) because of national security reasons. They will be forced by the courts to describe exactly what the national security threat is and how their action or inaction is related to it. Unfortunately, it may take getting sued (or at least the threat of lawsuit) before an agency may be willing to back down on a decision that they assert is based on national security concerns.

N.starluna said...

Well, the Supreme Court messed everything up again. They have reversed the Appeals court ruling that required a more substantive explanation for the "national defense" argument. However, the Court limited their ruling to activities by the military that are explicitly exempted by executive order. So a non-defense activities (like airports) may not be able to use the national defense argument without explanation and support. Of course, we won't know until someone sues and the courts decide.