The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has appointed a former Big Dig official to temporarily lead its Green Line extension efforts, as it continues to weigh whether to continue with the long-awaited project.
Jack Wright, a former state transportation official now at Weston and Sampson, an engineering consulting firm, will oversee an interim leadership team that will redesign the project to cut costs and find new ways to contract out the work, said Frank DePaola, the MBTA's general manager, during Monday's fiscal control board meeting.
Wright was briefly involved in a Big Dig controversy in 2004, when a tunnel sprung a massive leak. It was later discovered that Wright had been sent a memo about problems with leaks in the past, but apparently officials had not done enough to prevent more leaks.
DePaola said he tapped Wright, who served as deputy project manager for the Big Dig, for his "big project experience."
"We have several moving parts here that we have to deal with: design, budgeting, scheduling, and ongoing construction," said DePaola, a former highway administrator who worked with Wright in the past. "So we needed someone with that requisite experience who could start essentially today."
Officials believe they will have a new budget estimate for the project by April 7 and a revised financing plan by May 6, DePaola said. On May 11, the state transportation board could begin its discussion on whether to move forward with the rail extension into Medford and Somerville.
The new leadership team comes after the MBTA moved its staff for the project and wound down deals with contractors related to the Green Line extension. MBTA and state transportation officials have been under increasing pressure to cut costs — or even pull the plug on the project — since officials revealed the cost could be up to $1 billion more than the most recent estimate of $2 billion.
The MBTA has also tapped several contractors to work with Wright, including John Karn, a consultant with Arup Group who was involved in a recent study of the Green Line project, and Matthew Poirier, a vice president at Keville.
DePaola also named several state transportation department employees: Kate Fichter, who has worked as a project manager for the Green Line; David Mohler, executive director of transportation planning; and Jamey Tesler, assistant secretary for procurement.
The board on Monday approved allowing DePaola to pay the contractors up to $1.25 million over the next two weeks, before contracts are drawn up for approval. About $4.09 million in contract changes were also approved for ongoing Green Line construction work.
Questions about the Green Line project come as the MBTA tries several options — including fare increases and service cuts — to balance its budget.
Brian Shortsleeve, the T's chief administrator, said the agency could encourage 6 percent of its 6,500-person workforce to retire this year in an effort to save up to $36 million, according to one of its top officials.
The MBTA's retirement incentive program would encourage about 400 eligible workers to retire with a one-time payout that has not yet been calculated. The T would hope to hire 100 people to replace some of those workers.
Shortsleeve said the MBTA would focus on getting administrative-level workers to retire, rather than bus drivers and subway operators.
At the MBTA, about 1,000 workers are currently eligible for retirement.
The news also comes as the MBTA attempted to present a somewhat rosier picture of its finances at its weekly meeting. On Monday, officials said the T had shrunk its expected deficit from $104 million to $51 million from July to November last year — a sign it could finish the fiscal year with a smaller deficit than expected.
Shortsleeve said the T has saved about $6 million on energy costs; cut down on materials, consulting services, and other supplies by about $43.5 million; and generated more revenue from real estate and advertising.
MBTA officials acknowledged there was still a deficit, and that crucial decisions are needed in the next six months. For example, Jeffrey Gonneville, chief operating officer, said the T should take steps toward replacing the entire Green Line fleet and consider replacing the old Mattapan trolleys on the Red Line, possibly with electric buses.