The Baker administration has recently abandoned a proposal to move the headquarters of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation from its current location at 10 Park Plaza to a vacant seven-acre parcel in Roxbury known as Tremont Crossing.
Fundamental to the project’s demise was its exorbitant price tag, which early estimates placed at $350 million, far more than the $121 million valuation of the MassDOT’s current home, as cited by a BostInno reporter. Governor Baker’s spokesman, Tim Buckley, noted recently that “given the $1.8 billion deficit the administration inherited, there are currently no plans to relocate the state transportation building”.
This is another welcome display of sound financial management from the governor’s office. Still, members of the Roxbury community, who had hoped to feel the local economic stimulus that this project would have provided, were outspoken against the project’s dismissal. They noted the parcel’s half-century long abandonment and the common necessity for public investment to precede and catalyze private investment. We hear them.
But while it is not disputed that the project would benefit the Roxbury community, the numbers don’t justify the investment. Not now, anyway.
MassDOT has its hands full with the T. The MBTA is a highly indebted public transportation agency, with a balance sheet that sports $7.4 billion in liabilities. Even as we approach summer, the public outcry rings in our ears over its failures during Boston’s harsh winter.
Recognizing this, David Begelfer, chief executive of leading Massachusetts real estate development association NAIOP, was quoted in The Boston Globe saying that “it would be foolish, for the benefit to that area, to make a move that would disrupt a whole transportation system in crisis….When the [ship] is listing and getting ready with the lifeboats, it’s probably not a good idea to start ordering up new furniture for the ballroom.”
The relocation project was more of an 11th-hour dream by the departing Patrick administration than a reasonable way to allocate funds.
Once the MBTA can reliably and cost-effectively service its customers, MassDOT should begin to think about invigorating another part of the city by relocating MassDOT’s offices. That’s what public investment is all about – but timing matters.