David Pill: NIMBYs, waste and the Pike
PITTSFIELD — It seems as if the long talked about Turnpike exit 2A (or 3A I imagine) is dead. As Rep. Smitty Pignatelli said, the state won't spend $30 million where it's not wanted. That's probably true — unless the folks protesting were poor, inner city residents. The state would have bulldozed their neighborhoods many years ago — in fact, they did. These opponents are wealthy, well educated, and able to file lawsuits.
The exit (Blandford is still in play) would be of dubious value to Pittsfield or communities north because it dumps folks out on roads that are narrower, windier, and in many cases in worse repair than simply staying on the Pike, gritting your teeth for a few minutes in Lee, and then heading to your final destination. The cost to upgrade Route 8 through several hill towns to accommodate the traffic that now dumps out in Lee would dwarf the cost of the proposed interchange. Add the loss of property value as the traffic would be right in the living rooms of many folks along Route 8 probably is not worth it even if you could get by the opposition. The time to have installed that exit was in 1956 when the parcels were big, and the farmers along the way would have been bullied into giving up their land through eminent domain, just as every other taking along the Turnpike happened.
The passionate letters to the editor about the paradise to be lost is of course hokum. The folks writing live on 3, 4, or 7 acres carved out of parcels that were 7, 8, or 900 acres. Entire farms were lost just in the right of way to the Turnpike. But love it or hate it, the interstate highway system created the vast prosperity of the last part of the 20th century. It what brings the folks who wrote those letters to their homes, either seasonally or now they are full time allows them quick access to go back to a larger city for visits. It brings all of the goods they buy, and makes this part of the world accessible to the broader world. The fact that the ride to Westfield or Lee is manageable is good, because if the exit was there in 1956 or 1966 they would have needed to find paradise elsewhere. But the exit was dead on arrival because no one wants that stuff in their back yard if they can avoid it. And if you have the cash to fight, I guess you can avoid it.
WHY CO COSTLY?
But a question of greater importance is this: Why the hell does it cost $30-$40 million to break open a guard rail and build a road about 50 feet wide for 2,500 feet or so on each side of the interstate? Even after you take some properties, fill in some wetlands, and haul in several thousand yards of gravel to make the ramps' grade even, that's a lot of money! I have read that Massachusetts spends six times the national average on its roads, and they are rated at a C. Some folks say its because of the weather. New Hampshire spends about the national average (per lane mile) on its roads, they are rateda high B and they have at least the same or worse weather. So, as with most things in life, it is not the amount of money you spend, it is how you spend it.
Prevailing wage laws forcing contractors to pay union style benefits in the form of wages to employees they may already provide 401Ks and health benefits to add enormous costs. So to are costs inflated when you always need to use those same few firms whose trucks are always on the side of the road. The rules qualifying them to work on these projects are probably written to exclude a lot of qualified vendors. In Legal Notices, when jobs go to bid, the expected value of the job is always published. I imagine that sets a floor that will never drop.
There are ways to get better value from our tax dollars — and we don't even try. This union and that interest group buys our elected officials ears and the elected officials take their liberties in our wallets. Sometimes I see these jobs and say, oh well, if it makes things better, then its worth it. But often times, the jobs drag on long enough to see a kindergartener graduate high school. This is no joke. Creating the exit between Westfield and Lee will take 12 years. They built the Turnpike in about four or five and taking 12 years to do something so simple seems to be another reason it might cost $30 million. Unlike a private business, the state has no incentive to do a project quickly, and $30 million is not their money, so who cares?
If MassDOT actually gave us the A grade highways we pay for (and then some) it might be OK. But as I was heading from Great Barrington to Lenox recently I once again passed the bridge about a third of a mile south of the Red Lion Inn and once again noticed that the guard rails on the bridge are rotted and probably couldn't hold back a car if there were to be a crash. Why did the guard rails get so bad? Re-read this piece. Why couldn't it get fixed over the 12 years or so since I noticed the first piece of the railing rot off the bridge? Someone who is paid to care probably doesn't. And someone who is paid to watch that person probably isn't.
And if you work there 30 years or so and drive by it for 12, you can retire at 80 percent of your salary plus healthcare. Why should you do anything so simple as your job when that is the deal you get?
Dave Pill is an occasional Eagle contributor.
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