THE FISCAL troubles of the US Postal Service could have been a blessing in disguise for Boston and the MBTA, had the federal agency decided to cut costs by closing an outmoded mail-processing plant next to South Station. Removing the hulking plant would make way for expansion of the train station, which would improve the reliability of the commuter rail system - and open up spectacular development opportunities along Fort Point Channel to boot.
Yet when the Postal Service announced a round of plant reductions last week, the list didn’t include the 1.4-million-square-foot Boston plant. Instead, the Postal Service is doubling down on it. The result makes little sense: Processing centers in Waltham and Shrewsbury would close, and operations would move to the Boston plant and North Reading.
The declining volume of first-class mail has hit the Postal Service hard, and the agency is struggling to cut billions of dollars in expenses over the next several years. And while postal officials have long talked about replacing the South Station plant with a newer facility nearby, the agency was floating the idea not six months ago of simply closing the Boston plant altogether. A shift of operations to facilities outside Boston would be a short-term blow to the city’s labor force, and the Postal Service must find an equitable way to allocate job losses among its local workforce, no matter which facilities remain in operation. But fully exploiting the transportation and development possibilities on a 16-acre site near South Station will cushion the blow, yielding many more new jobs over time.
Transportation Secretary Richard Davey notes that the state is only at the beginning of a lengthy planning process for the site, so a temporary move of operations to the current facility shouldn’t cause much of a delay in redevelopment plans. Still, consolidating three mail-processing plants in Boston doesn’t make sense if the Postal Service plans to move workers again in the near future. If redevelopment near South Station is contingent upon the construction of a new postal facility elsewhere, it will likely take longer and cost more than if the Boston plant simply shuts down.
Instead, the Postal Service’s decision seems likely to bring about delicate, time-consuming negotiations with the state - and all the costs and disruptions that go with constructing a new facility.
Enough already. The Postal Service should sell the plant site to the state for fair market value, and get on with consolidating its operations elsewhere in the area.