Pulling strings

Two recent articles from Massachusetts show the dominance of federal money in local transportation planning.

A town wants to repair an old bridge. State officials want their friends to get rich off railroad construction. Both are local projects. The bridge is on a small street; the railroad would carry commuter traffic a few miles.

Both are dominated by federal rules.

The bridge to nowhere in particular

In Cohasset, the state offered to replace an old bridge with a new one. But it can’t be a straightforward replacement. The new bridge has to be bigger and more utilitarian, and that has residents worried.

It’s a federal-aid bridge. The government doesn’t do “quaint.”

This isn’t an Interstate highway. This is a little bridge on a little road that you’d only use if you were headed to or from the immediate vicinity, and didn’t want to use one of the other routes in and out.

Why is the federal government paying for a redundant bridge in an area with million dollar houses? Shouldn’t this be a local project?

The Green Line extension

Former Governor Deval Patrick was a big fan of expensive railroads.

He had already sabotaged plans to improve Route 24 by arranging an environmental impact statment favoring a railroad along the same corridor, although the railroad would cost twice as much and move fewer people. And then he got a chance to go to work in Somerville.

One of the strings attached to federal highway aid is the requirement to pay blackmail to anti-highway groups. Outside the Big Dig’s formal budget, but still part of its price, was a promise to extend light rail into Somerville.

The Green Line extension project was launched with an unusual financial incentive. Contractors could set their own price. The governor had friends in Washington. They would pick up the overrun.

Indeed, Governor Patrick got a billion dollars from Washington to cover the first round of overruns.

But the overruns were not about to stop. When Governor Baker took over enough was enough.

The cheapest way forward is to give back the billion dollars and pull the plug on the project. (As I write this, a group assigned to act as adult supervision for the MBTA is about to vote on cancellation.)

Congressman Capuano says if Massachusetts abandons the project and returns the money, federal officials might not trust the state to complete future large projects.

Hey, federal officials: do not trust Massachusetts with big projects.

Did you learn nothing from watching the Big Dig? The Silver Line? The Greenbush Line?

Some of the Big Dig was relevant for interstate transportation, but commuter subway lines and bridges to the beach are not. The federal government should stay out and let state and local governments sink or swim.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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