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How Rahm Emanuel could save the Sagamore Bridge

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The Sagamore flyover, Mitt Romney’s Cape Cod legacy, is the gift that’s stopped giving. The summer driving season is just days away, but drivers have already been experiencing weeks of soul-crushing traffic jams, including mammoth Mother’s Day weekend backups, thanks to 24/7 lane restrictions on the Sagamore Bridge due to steel work to shore up the nearly 80-year-old bridge.

The Republican warned western Massachusetts drivers planning to get a jump on Memorial Day weekend on the Cape to prepare for the worst if they travel before bridge construction work ends on May 24.

“I want to see one eight lane bridge over the Cape Cod Canal before I die,” lamented one man on the Cape Cod Times Facebook page.

That would be nice since the Cape’s real problem is that the Sagamore and the Bourne bridges can’t handle 21st century traffic and conventional state funding can’t produce the new spans the region needs.

Most proposals for new tools such as infrastructure banks have gotten short shrift from federal and state lawmakers. President Obama’s national infrastructure bank plan has gone nowhere with Congress. Gov. Deval Patrick’s state plan was recently stripped out of both House and Senate versions of a recent transportation bond bill.

Maybe Chicago has an answer. The Economist recently spotlighted Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s latest brainchild, the Chicago Infrastructure Trust. Fed up with waiting for federal or state dollars to help pay for his audacious $7 billion plan to rebuild the Windy City’s crumbling infrastructure, Emanuel has devised a what is essentially a Match.com for the for the city’s transportation and other public assets.  

Instead of foisting higher taxes on city residents, Emanuel aims to have private companies invest in the trust to fund projects on a “case-by-case basis.” So far the likes of Citibank, Citi Infrastructure Investors, and the JP Morgan Asset Management Infrastructure Investment Group among others, have put $1.7 billion in the trust. The companies reap profits from tolls, user fees, and tax breaks.

Though Emanuel convinced the Chicago City Council to go along with the idea there are plenty of skeptics. Some lawmakers wonder about the wisdom of relying on investments made by some of the architects of the country’s financial meltdown.  Others suspect that corporate user fees could be more onerous than city-backed fee or tax increases as Chicagoans discovered to their dismay when former Mayor Richard Daley farmed out parking meter operations to a private group.

Despite the dire condition of many state roads and bridges, interest in public-private partnerships has been lukewarm at best in the Bay State. There are also barriers like the Pacheco law that would have to be dealt with if such projects are ever to be seriously considered.

Yet with transportation officials working nonstop to extend the lifespan of bridges like the Sagamore through periodic repairs, the Chicago experiment bears watching.  Cape Cod traffic jams won’t end anytime soon. A Sagamore Bridge painting project begins next year.

                                                                                                                                                            --GABRIELLE GURLEY

BEACON HILL

Without specifically backing either the House or Senate health care cost bills, Gov. Deval Patrick signaled broad support for the goal of limiting the growth in health care costs to no more than than that of the overall state economy. Patrick also pledges to serve out his full term.

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation shuts down an ice cream stand at Great Brook Farm State Park in Carlisle after the operator made building improvements without receiving permission first, the Lowell Sun reports. The action follows a report in CommonWealth about DCR’s poor supervision of leases.

State Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty is throwing in the towel on a late-night budget amendment he sponsored to move the Chelsea District Court, where a close family friend and campaign supporter serves as clerk magistrate, under the umbrella of the Boston Municipal Court and take authority over court away from Lynda Connolly, the chief justice for district courts, who recently took disciplinary action against the clerk.

The Republican argues that gaming commission member Bruce Stebbins’s tenure as a Springfield city councilor should not disqualify him from service on the state regulatory body. Springfield is in the running for a casino site.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

An audit of Lawrence’s finances finds no fraud or mismanagement of the $235 million city and school budget, but raises concern about lax controls over investments and primitive payroll systems, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

A change in federal law could force some cities and towns to spend millions of dollars to replace public safety communications equipment, some of it just purchased to comply with other federal mandates.

Dracut Housing Authority Executive Director Mary Karabatsos wins high marks in a federal review eight months after three of the authority’s five commissioners nearly ousted her from the job, the Lowell Sun reports.

Boston tries to ride the momentum behind waterfront development as it puts a sunken pier out to bid.  

CommonWealth’s Paul McMorrow, in his weekly Globe column, tells Boston’s Haymarket pushcart vendors to get with the 21st century.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

A Republican New Hampshire lawmaker makes a Nazi salute to the speaker during a House session, the Eagle-Tribune reports. NECN has a video report, showing the rep apologizing four times to the House but insisting afterwards that the speaker is a tyrant.

Virginia’s General Assembly rejects an openly gay prosecutor for a Richmond judgeship, the Washington Post reports.

Oklahoma approves a new law allowing guns to be carried openly by people who have taken firearms training and had a background check, the Tulsa World reports.

Cash-strapped states are diverting funds from the recent nationwide foreclosure settlement to plug budget deficits.

House Speaker John Boehner telegraphs a new standoff over the debt ceiling, earning a rebuke from the New York Times editorial page.

ELECTION 2012

Republican consultant Todd Domke, in a commentary for WBUR, says the controversy about Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage raised as many questions about her Senate campaign as about her personally. The Wall Street Journal documents Warren’s Native American problems.

Mitt Romney is fighting back, producing a Web video that touts Bain Capital’s intervention in an Indiana steel company that saved jobs and the American way of life. Buzzkillers, though, point out the ad fails to mention the millions of dollars in subsidies the state government poured in. In a speech yesterday in Iowa, Romney cast President Obama as an enemy of free enterprise. Romney receives a strange endorsement from George W. Bush.

Meanwhile, big banks -- including current poster-boy for bad Wall Street behavior JPMorgan Chase -- are betting big on Romney, according to a Globe story on campaign donors.

Keller@Large says if any congressional district is ripe for GOP picking, it could be the 6th District, where US Rep. John Tierney and challenger Richard Tisei each claim a lead in polls.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s video game company is in trouble, which could prove costly to Rhode Island, which wooed the firm from Massachusetts with $75 million in loan guarantees that the Bay State wasn’t willing to match.

General Motors says it plans to stop advertising on Facebook as the social media company preps for an initial public offering that could put a market value on the company of $104 billion, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Farms in Williamstown will be able to host weddings, small concerts, and other commercial projects after gaining town meeting approvals.

EDUCATION

MIT announced this morning that L. Rafael Reif, the university’s provost, will take the reins as the school’s new president, succeeding Susan Hockfield, who announced three months ago that she was stepping down.

The president of the Methuen teachers union defends a decision made during a secret session of the board to hold a new vote for president after she lost an earlier vote, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Worcester teachers bust a move to prank their students, NECN reports.

The attorney general’s office has sued a shuttered Weymouth driving school that officials say closed its doors and left 200 students without lessons they had already paid for.

RELIGION

Scituate parishioners that have occupied a local church the archdiocese is attempting to close say they will not give up their 24-hour vigil they began in 2004 despite a Vatican ruling this week that rejected their appeal.

TRANSPORTATION

The Fall River City Council is moving toward lifting the cap on taxi licenses and banning the practice of the large operators in the city from hoarding unused licenses.

The Herald knocks the MBTA for running express Silver Line buses from the South Boston convention center to Logan Airport. The convention center doesn’t pay for the service and the T pays the bus drivers overtime, meaning the cash-strapped agency is likely losing money on the route.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

In a victory for wind turbine foes, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection has recommended that a Falmouth wind turbine, which sits less than 1,500 feet from a residence, be shut down because of the excessive noise it generates.  

Federal mediators have been called in to try to avert a strike at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and Salem immigration attorney and Democratic Senate candidate Marisa DeFranco face off over the Secure Communities program on Greater Boston.

MEDIA

The secretary of state has rejected an appeal by the New Bedford Standard Times for all documents related to an internal investigation by the Bristol County Sheriff’s Department into the jail’s medical director, who abruptly resigned last fall.

A local political news website in Seattle closes because of limited ad revenue despite 400,000 monthly page views, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker make a funny video together for the New Jersey Press Association Legislative Correspondents Club Show.

1 Article Comments
Recent Comments

Jim Aloisi

Says on 5/16/2012 5:34 PM
A few comments on the Sagamore Saga & Gabrielle’s posting: First, once the Army Corp completed the Cape Cod Canal in the first half of the last century, Cape Cod became an island, with all of the access issues presented by any island. Some islands, like Manhattan, have been made relatively easy to access as a result of multiple bridges and tunnels, and an extensive transit/rail system. Other islands, like our own Martha’s Vineyard, have limited access from ferry and air service. That reality limits growth, limits travel, limits options. No one should expect access to Cape Cod to resemble access to Manhattan. The question is how we respond to the reality that the two New Deal era bridges will never satisfy 21st Century demand, and that given the realities of funding and environmental constraints, and daunting highway logistics, no additional capacity of any meaningful nature is remotely feasible. Some small improvements can be made by closing some exit ramps, but there isn’t much room for significant improvement. For full time residents, this limitation on access will be a burden that must be managed with creativity and sensitivity. For those who choose to have second homes, or vacation on the Cape, this becomes a pure supply/demand equation: if you choose to have a second home there, or vacation there, you must accept the limitations on access created by too much demand for too little supply. Those who can accept this in Zen-like fashion will reap the rewards of the Cape’s many virtues. For those who cannot, Cape Ann (with its own virtues) beckons. Second, the Mayor of Chicago has set out an ambitious $7 Billion plan to rebuild all of Chicago’s public works infrastructure, from water systems to streetlights and everything in between. The newly created Chicago Infrastructure Trust (CIT) is a bold, albeit untested, approach to leveraging private sector investment capital to help the city achieve its goals. Thus far Mayor Emanuel has been clear that he will test-drive the CIT by using it to fund a building energy efficiency program called Retrofit Chicago. That program may test the efficacy of the idea. Until there is actual experience and data coming out of the CIT, it is too early to set it up as a national model. Interestingly, a recent report by Cate Long of Thomson Reuters casts doubt on CIT by comparing it unfavorably to what Boston is doing. See: “Boston Funds Publicly, While Chicago Goes Private”, April 20, 2012. James Aloisi
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