Throwing money down the hole

Earlier today, I posted a brief piece linking to Scared Monkey’s piece on the Big Dig in Boston. Shortly thereafter, I received a mildly annoyed e-mail from Bruce of Mass Backwards, informing me that he had worked on the Big Dig for several years and was just about to dump a bunch of behind-the-scenes of stories showing just how big a disaster this project was.

Well, Bruce has gone and done it. He’s starting to tell a few tales about just how the project went from $3 billion to almost $15 billion, is still nowhere near done, and is already falling apart.

Bruce also links to Wave Maker, a former attorney for the MBTA (Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority, formerly the Metropolitan Transit Authority until it was relentless mocked by “Charlie On The MTA”). He’s got a horror story or two of his own.

Now, it’s easy to blame the Democrats for this utter fiasco, this bad 70’s disaster movie come to life. After all, it was pushed heavily by Massachusetts’ Democratic senators and representatives, the Democratically-controlled state legislature, and the Democratically-controlled infrastructure. But the swine behind the project set aside a bit of loot for Republicans, too. Three Republican governors in a row — Bill Weld, Paul Celucci, and Jane Swift — all let things slide and go by while the bill kept going higher and higher. Swift, though, took the project to heart. She actively did everything she could as governor to squelch investigations, keep quiet scandals, and in general keep the facade of success going while behind the scenes, it (in some cases) came crumbling down.

But now Massachusetts has a new Republican governor, Mitt Romney. And several factors are outweighing the Big Dig’s ability to turn his head. For one, Romney has a “Mr. Clean” reputation, built largely on his taming the Salt Lake City Olympics, dragging it from the precipice of disaster into a success. For another, he has barely-disguised higher political aspirations, and reformers and whistle-blowers (even failed ones) tend to be higher-regarded than those who perpetuate coverups. And thirdly, major problems are starting to become too big to conceal. Leaks are springing all through tunnels, ice is falling off bridge cables and smashing car windshields, and road surfaces are coming apart, just to name a few.

God only knows where this will lead, how long it’ll take to fix, and how much more it’ll cost to fix. My own hunch — based on absolutely nothing but wild guesses — is that it’ll be about six years and another eight billion dollars to get it all up and running in anything resembling a functional form.

And that money will come mostly on the back of Massachusetts taxpayers. The federal government has already indicated that it’s sent enough money down that particular hole.

And that might finally trigger the long-overdue tax revolt in Massachusetts. The money will have to be spent, and will have to come from somewhere. If they’re lucky, there will be massive cuts in other state spending to cover the added costs. And if they’re not lucky, the pols will just find new ways to squeeze just that much more money out of their subjects — er, citizens.

Maybe someday the Powers That Be in Massachusetts will wake up to the fact that there were very good reasons why Massachusetts was the only state that lost population between the 1990 and 2000 censuses. I hope so, I really do.

But I doubt it.


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  1. Ken March 16, 2005
  2. Ric Locke March 16, 2005
  3. Just Me March 16, 2005
  4. jaws March 16, 2005
  5. BigFire March 16, 2005
  6. Ken March 16, 2005
  7. wavemaker March 17, 2005
  8. Jack Tanner March 17, 2005
  9. firstbrokenangel March 17, 2005