MassDOT Wants You!

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MassDOT has started a talent search for a range of professionals to work for the agency, as well as for the MBTA. They are looking for the right people with the right skills at the right time, and that time is now! These will be energetic individuals that are familiar with best practices and want to assist in transforming the current transportation system into a world class system.

This is a great opportunity to get involved with an agency that has problems, for sure, but also one that is on the move and seeking change with top notch leadership at its helm. The experience that these new hires will get will be invaluable as they move on with their careers. Or, for more seasoned professionals, this is a great way to give back and shape the future of transportation in the Commonwealth.

Some of the current jobs include:

  • MBTA Assistant Administrator of Contracting Strategy & Supply Chain
  • MBTA Business Analyst
  • MBTA Deputy Administrator of Customer Experience
  • MBTA Director of Cost Control & Lean Strategy
  • MBTA Director of Financial Analysis & Planning
  • MBTA Director of Revenue
  • MBTA Manager of Capital Budget
  • MBTA Sr. Operating Budget Analyst

If you know of someone looking for a new, challenging opportunity, let them know about MassDOT.

Making Air Rights Development Work

I applaud Matt Kiefer at Goulston &Storrs for his recent article in Commonwealth Magazine regarding the Columbus Center development fiasco and the potential role of government to prevent a similar outcome on future economic development projects.

What first struck me about the difficulty in getting this project through the permitting process in a reasonable amount of time was the lack of public support from the state, city, and neighborhoods.

One would expect loud cheering for a developer who presented a plan to knit back neighborhoods separated for decades and heal a visible, ugly, noisy, urban scar produced by an open sunken turnpike. However, after over 130 public meetings and several years, this project was sufficiently delayed until the development was no longer financially viable. Even with changing design requirements, increasing construction costs, and enormous engineering challenges, the developers still tried to make this project work, requesting state assistance with infrastructure and the affordable housing component. Finally, however, it was a national recession that sealed Columbus Center’s fate.

More recently, other proposed air rights projects have also fallen by the wayside. Four non-profit proposals to build over the Greenway land or exit ramps have failed to move forward. A prime culprit was underestimating the costs to construct over the expressway. And yet, the then-Mass Turnpike Authority continued to consider those and other similar sites as valuable assets worth millions of “up-front” dollars, rather than the liabilities they were to any developer considering construction.

It is challenging enough to commit to build a sizable development in Boston given the high construction costs associated with dense, urban projects.  Add to that the obligation to fund city infrastructure, make linkage payments for affordable housing, and the uncertainty of where the market will be after a lengthy permitting process, and you have a serious set of impediments to growth.

I agree with Matt’s recommendations:

•             MassDOT should look towards ground rents and/or sharing in the profits realized from a sale or refinancing, rather than pressing for larger acquisition costs.  Massport has successfully helped produce many major development projects in the Seaport area using this approach.

•             Building over air-rights is very complicated and costly. Government incentives and a predictable permitting process will be necessary to make the sites over the Turnpike and the Greenway ramps feasible.  The result will be increased tax revenues and a better city.

•             MassDOT should consider outsourcing the oversight for the development of air rights projects to MassDevelopment. It has a proven track record helping to guide development projects throughout the state.

Now is the time to start preparing for an upswing in development interest. If we do not fix these problems now, it could be many years before this highway blight is replaced with productive, well designed, urban mixed use projects.

MassDOT Looking for Opportunities

On December 6, MassDOT Secretary and Chief Executive Officer Richard Davey spoke at NAIOP’s Government Affairs Roundup.  He discussed a number of his priorities as Secretary.  First and foremost, he is committed to supporting innovation within the agency.  He is encouraging employees to do things differently and to come up with creative solutions to some of the challenges facing MassDOT.  His energy and passion for the job are clear.

A top priority for the agency has been the implementation of the transportation reform legislation passed in 2009. The impetus for that bill was the mandate that there be reform before any discussion of new revenues.  Although there was no discussion of new revenue streams at the NAIOP program, Davey made it very clear that MassDOT cannot continue to maintain current services (and certainly not expand services), given the significant reductions in budgets and staffing.

One particular area of discussion was the agency’s cataloging of its real estate holdings to determine what opportunities might be available, including public/private partnerships.  NAIOP will be closely monitoring such opportunities.  Another priority is electronic tolling.  Currently being used in a number of other states, only e-tolls will be used on the Tobin Bridge starting next year.

His remarks also illustrated the need for a complete financial restructuring of the MBTA if it wants to continue to provide current services or consider any expansion plans.  Debt is the major problem for the MBTA, with 50 cents of every $1 of revenue going to debt service.

Secretary Davey is optimistic regarding the future of MassDOT, but he is also a realist who understands that reforms can only get you so far.  We encourage a rational discussion about the historic, existing, and future requirements for infrastructure.  If we do not invest in our future, we will ultimately pay a higher price in lost businesses and jobs.

MassDOT Needs Mullan

President Truman was fond of saying “the buck stops here.”  Taking responsibility for problems that occurred within his administration was an important part of his leadership style. But taking responsibility did not mean his resignation or
impeachment; and that was a good thing for the country.

Secretary Jeffrey Mullan

Prompted by the appearance of a lack of transparency following the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s (MassDOT) handling of a light fixture problem in a Big Dig tunnel, the Secretary and CEO of MassDOT, Jeff Mullan, has recently come under
fire.  The Secretary has taken responsibility for the problem and is working to resolve many of the challenges that come with merging multiple transportation agencies.

Let us not forget the size and complexity of MassDOT and this task.  It demands leadership and people skills, as well as an understanding of transportation policy issues, that few people have.

Secretary Mullan, who has been involved in Massachusetts transportation issues for more than 20 years, brings a business-like approach to state transportation. He was a key author of the massive transportation reform plan and has worked diligently to implement significant changes in culture and policy.

We cannot afford to lose such a committed public servant.  If I were the Governor, I would make it clear that his resignation will not be accepted.  There is much work to be done – from completing the massive overhaul of this agency, to investing in key transportation projects to spur economic growth, to completing the deferred repair of our aging roads and bridges.

Mr. Secretary, let the buck stop at your desk, but stick around and help the Commonwealth with your strong leadership, commitment, and willingness to be held accountable.