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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.

J.


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Comments (9)

I seem to recall a similar ... (Below threshold)
Ken:

I seem to recall a similar $ disaster on the Washington DC subways about 25 years ago. The subways were finished and are said to be great. The cost is never discussed.

Most public projects are estimated low to sell the scheme. When the real cost becomes apparent you point at someone else.

The problems at the Big Dig seem worse. It will make a great book. I won't read it - too depressing.

My own hunch -- based o... (Below threshold)
Ric Locke:

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.

Well, that depends on whether what was actually done has a sound core. What I've seen and heard from the fringes suggests that it does not -- that both preparations and materials were skimped on, proper procedures not followed, etc., with the result that what's there is the equivalent of rotten wood and mud brick. The specs on those tunnel walls, for instance, called for tiebacks and grouting to the point where significant leaks should not be occurring without major ground movement -- I'm talking earthquake here.

If so, it isn't fixable; it will all have to come out and be started over. Figure roughly your guess to tear it out, plus whatever it takes to actually build what was designed. It might be cheaper to move Boston ten miles or so west to leave room for the style of roads used in Western cities.

Regards,
Ric

Ken considering the enginee... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

Ken considering the engineer sent to fix the tunnel leaks won't certify the tunnel as safe, is enough to make anyone worry.

The big dig is probably one of the biggest tax money suckers ever, with a lot of corruption and waste built right in.

I recall hearing somewhere,... (Below threshold)
jaws:

I recall hearing somewhere, that besides being a total and complete boondogle (and that's being polite) in it's current state, the Big Dig was based on projections of traffic in Boston that were made at the time of the project's inseption. Now even with the Big Dig "done" the whole highway artery system is once again inadequate for all the traffic on Boston's road ways...

Yep. The Los Angeles Redli... (Below threshold)
BigFire:

Yep. The Los Angeles Redline subway system that no one uses. Another wonderful example.

Agree with several comments... (Below threshold)
Ken:

Agree with several comments. I also think it is going to be unfixable but I had my "nice hat" on while typing.

It is always hard to be sure about public construction because they are not allowed to fail.

And very few are financed from one source - typically there is money from feds, states, local, overrides, bonds, etc.etc. gleaned over decades. So the total money can't be figured out. This is not accidental.

I like the comment about moving Boston 10 miles.

Say what you want about the... (Below threshold)

Say what you want about the cost, quality, incompetence, lard, employment scam, etc. etc. etc. --- as a resident of the South Shore who commutes to Boston regularly, this beautiful new project has reduced my commute by at least four minutes. Very much worth the rice.

One aspect of this that should be figured into the final price tag (if it isn't already) is that, as the result of an early law suit against the project by the Conservation Law Foundation, the "project" had to include all sorts of "mitigation" measures, including a half-billion dollar construction of a commuter rail line to my hometown --- The Greenbush Line, it's called -- which, on a dollar-per-rider basis has to be a rival to any transportation boondoggle you can name!

'Maybe someday the Powers T... (Below threshold)
Jack Tanner:

'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.'

Who is going to wake up to what? As the population goes down the state becomes more of a one party state. Out of staters get distracted because Romney is a GOPer but there are no other elected officials above the level of State Senator in the state and there are only like 7 of them. The K and K tards, all of the US Reps except for Olver, and Menino run either unopposed or with such weak competition that they barely campaign. You have a supposed AG Reilly who's going to run for Gov. He's as corrupt as Hell, taken piles of money from the Big Dig contractors, supposedly heads the cost recovery but what's he going to do? Implicate his contributors and labor leaders? I doubt it. But I'm with Wave - on that rare occassion when I drive to the North Shore that exchange from Storrow Drive to 93N is way better than it was 15 years ago. That had to be worth $15 billion of other peoples money.

Yeah, and those people prob... (Below threshold)
firstbrokenangel:

Yeah, and those people probably moved to NH!




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