Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack on Wednesday sounded a note of defiance and said the administration will continue to push its proposal to change the way the MBTA is managed, a day after the state Senate dealt a blow to the plan.
Wednesday marked the first meeting of the board that oversees the MBTA since Governor Charlie Baker replaced five of its seven members. After the meeting, Pollack expressed exasperation at lawmakers’ opposition to what she considers an essential tool to fixing the beleaguered transit system.
“Even if you don’t believe we need it or you don’t think it’s the only thing we need to fix it, why not create it to help us when it’s our conclusion that we need it?” she said.
The state transportation board currently oversees both the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. But Baker has proposed legislation that would shift control of the T to a “fiscal and management control board” for three to five years.
On Tuesday, the Senate laid out its own proposal to overhaul the MBTA, which rejects the control board and other key pieces of Baker’s plan. House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, however, has been more supportive of Baker’s positions on fixing the agency.
During the Department of Transportation board meeting Wednesday, Pollack told members that they would not be responsible for dramatically changing the T.
“What I and the governor do not expect you to be is a ‘fiscal and management control board’ for the MBTA,” she said. “That is a very separate task designed for a very separate body that we continue to hope the Legislature will create so that the T can have the intensive, focused attention and discipline that we continue to believe is necessary to help that agency succeed.”
Pollack has said only the control board can give the T the focus it needs right now, since the Department of Transportation board deals with so many aspects of state transportation, such as the highway system and the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The board would likely meet weekly when it is first established, according to the administration.
But lawmakers have criticized the control board proposal, saying it adds another layer of bureaucracy between the administration and the T. Some have also questioned whether the additional entity would undermine a 2009 law that merged several transportation agencies.
Pollack on Wednesday brushed off such concerns, repeating a point that she made in testimony before the Legislature.
“I and the governor, and the lieutenant governor, remain 100 percent committed to the concept of one MassDOT overseeing one integrated transportation system,” she said.
In recent months, Baker has taken steps to increase his control of the T. He asked for the resignations of the six transportation board members who had been appointed by his predecessor.
Pollack remained on the board, and the governor recently named five new members. Baker also reappointed Dominic Blue, a vice president and an assistant general counsel at Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.
Currently, the transportation secretary cannot serve as the chairperson of the Department of Transportation board — a stipulation that Baker’s proposal would change. Until it is adopted, Ruth Bonsignore, a consultant who works in transportation planning and design, will serve as the chairwoman of the board.
Bonsignore, a civil engineer who helped create a manual for MassHighway’s project development and design in 2006, said she is excited about the heightened interest in transportation in the state.
“I think the timing is really good for me to work to support the kinds of improvements and future plans for the system that people are calling for,” she said.
The other members of the Department of Transportation board are: Brian Lang, president of the Unite Here Local 26 union; Steve Poftak, executive director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at Harvard Kennedy School; Betsy Taylor, recently retired director of finance and treasury at the Massachusetts Port Authority; and Robert Moylan Jr., Worcester’s former commissioner of the Department of Public Works and Parks.
The board took its first action on Wednesday by approving an $81.8 million contract to Walsh Construction Co. to rebuild the aging Commonwealth Avenue bridge that runs over the Massachusetts Turnpike near Boston University.
The construction will disrupt traffic substantially in August 2016 and August 2017. Officials will choose the exact dates for the disruptions in January of each year.Nicole Dungca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.