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Dukakis, Weld say MBTA needs more in-house expertise

Former governors Michael S. Dukakis (left) and William F. Weld met Monday with The Boston Globe’s editorial board.
Former governors Michael S. Dukakis (left) and William F. Weld met Monday with The Boston Globe’s editorial board.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority does not have the employees it needs to complete projects such as the Green Line extension, and should hire more in-house experts, former governors Michael S. Dukakis and William F. Weld said on Monday.

In an interview with the Globe editorial board, Dukakis, a Democrat, expressed disbelief about the cost overruns of the Green Line extension, a plan to build 4.7 miles of track and seven stations. The transit agency has been under scrutiny after officials revealed the extension of the trolley line into Somerville and Medford could cost $1 billion more than previous estimates.

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“It’s not a complicated project,” Dukakis said.

Consultants hired to examine what went wrong with the estimates for the project said last week that the agency had not trained enough staff to deal with the project. The state transportation board plans to hear more on Wednesday about its options for going forward with the extension.

Dukakis, long known for his avid support for public transportation, appeared incredulous when he described how much the agency is spending on outside contractors to help with the project. According to the MBTA, officials budgeted $392.7 million for professional services contracts.

“We got a bunch of consultants and I can’t figure out what they’re doing over there,” he said.

Weld, a Republican, works for the firm that represents HDR/Gilbane, the company the MBTA hired to help oversee the extension as a project manager.

After Dukakis sang the praises of a former employee at the MBTA who helped get projects done under budget and on time, Weld said it takes “personnel knowledgable along those lines” to get projects such as the Green Line extension done.

“I think it’s fair to say that the expertise at the T, in terms of personnel, needs to deepen,” he said.

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Weld said Governor Charlie Baker, one of his protégés, seems willing to focus on getting that expertise into the agency.

The lack of confidence in the MBTA’s team comes as the two former governors continue their push for a rail link between North and South stations, which would require building underground tunnels in the middle of Boston.

The former governors have both supported the North-South rail link project for decades, and they have ramped up advocacy for the project in recent months. Both believe the new rail project would be an important connection for the region’s smaller cities, take thousands of cars off the road, and produce about $120 million in passenger revenue for the MBTA.

At one point, a study conducted during Governor Mitt Romney’s administration said the project could cost about $8 billion, which Dukakis has blasted as inflated.

In recent months, support appears to be growing for the project: A working group including several mayors and legislators, including US Representative Seth Moulton, has been meeting monthly since September to discuss the underground link. Another meeting is scheduled this month.

Weld and Dukakis both tried and failed to get the project done during their administrations. Dukakis tried to include the rail link project in the Big Dig, a massive transportation project that came under fire for coming in over budget and years late.

But Dukakis said on Monday the rail link “wasn’t the Big Dig.” The North and South Station link would be much simpler, he said, and cities such as Barcelona and London have already gone forward with similar connections.

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The former governors’ public support for the project has intensified as the state transportation department continues to take steps that could expand South Station, a project some see as being in competition with the North-South rail link. Baker has been exploring the $1.6 billion expansion, even taking trips to Washington, D.C., to speak to Representative Stephen Lynch about the project.

Dukakis called it “wasteful” to continue studying the expansion of South Station, which was recently renamed after him under Governor Deval Patrick’s administration. Even during the ceremony for the name change, Dukakis said the North-South rail link would be more beneficial for the region than expanding the area’s busiest transit hub.

Meanwhile, the state transportation department is developing the scope of a study for the North-South rail link.

Michael Verseckes, a transportation department spokesman, said it will be conducted to “refresh our understanding of the market costs, right-of-way needs, ridership, constructability,” and other factors with the project. The study would likely begin sometime in 2016, he said.


Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.