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Senate Passes Transportation Reform Bill

By Meghna Chakrabarti (The Third Rail)

But scrupulously avoids the current taboo term on Beacon Hill: Revenue.

The Senate passed Senate Bill 2023, An Act Moderning the Transportation Systems of the Commonwealth by a 39-1 margin. No surprise there, as Senate President Therese Murray had promised to move the bill through her chamber with little problem.

The beefy bill (read the 60-or-so amendments here) creates the Massachusetts Surface Transportation Agency, or MassTrans. The authority would eliminate the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and the MBTA, and put operations of all Commonwealth roads, bridges, tunnels, trains and buses under one roof.

Streamlining begets savings is the idea. Sort of.

Senate leadership has offered sunny savings estimates as high as $6 billion, based on analysis from consultant Deloitte & Touche, but Murray's office has acknowledged that the actual longterm savings likely fall short of that, to around $2.5 billion over 20 years. That number mirrors costs savings estimated by the Transportation Finance Commission when it recommended 22 transportation reforms for the Commonwealth.

The bill now moves to the House.

So, the Senate passes MassTrans, and what, badda-bing, badda-boom, Massachusetts transportation problems, reformed? Not quite. Real streamlining would mean job cuts, but Transportation Committe co-chair Stephen Baddour wouldn't specify when and if those cuts would happen. "We're not going to wake up the day this is signed and have immediate savings," he told the Globe.

(A couple big, if not explicit, ifs: if it is signed by Governor Patrick, and if any savings are realized.)

And on that second if, MassTrans isn't the Commonwealth's first crack at reform before revenue. Under the Romney administration, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) emerged from a 2003 consolidation of the then-Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management, and the Metropolitan District Commission. DCR has built up maintenance backlog of more than $1 billion since then.

DCR pops up in the press now and again, playing the part of the ghost of reforms past, dragging its chain of neglected parks behind it. The Globe's Sam Allis writes:

"The DCR is a sweet target because of its manifest failure to do its job. The Observer wrote in May about its inability to clean up the surface of the Charles River. But, in truth, the department is not the major bogeyman here. It's broke."

Which, to certain ears in the transportation debate, rings familiar indeed.

This program aired on March 25, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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