Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker is being called to account for his role in Big Dig spending when he was the chief finance officer for the Weld and Cellucci administrations.
The project, while greatly improving both the appearance and accessibility of Boston's central business district and nearby airport, was completed at many times its projected cost. And Baker needs to talk honestly about what went right and what went wrong during his tenure as secretary of administration and finance.
At the same time, however, it appears incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick has failed to heed some of the lessons that should have been taken from what may stand for a very long time as the most expensive public-works project in U.S. history.
One factor, of course, was the prevailing-wage requirement which mandated that labor costs on the Big Dig exceed those that would have obtained had the work been open to unrestricted competitive bidding.
That's the same statute that severely limits any savings the state's Department of Transportation can achieve through the use of civilian flaggers at road work sites like the Causeway project in Essex. And now, the UMass Building Authority board approved a "project labor agreement" that will apply to the rehab of its Boston campus. It requires contractors to use union labor in exchange for an agreement by those unions not to strike while work is underway.
There is, of course, another local example of runaway construction costs. While no one may argue that the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge construction project isn't necessary, taxpayers are still due an explanation why the cost for the work — pegged at $8 million when the project was in the planning stages in 2006 — soared to $17 million when work began in 2008 to the $23 million projection of today.
So how is the state addressing these issues? By putting the brakes on construction projects and runaway costs?
Hardly. Last week, state officials announced plans to use $20 million in federal stimulus money to begin construction of a new commuter rail line from Boston to New Bedford and Fall River. Yet the state, still facing declining revenues, has no idea where it's going to get the money to finish the project whose total cost is estimated — today — at $1.5 billion.
So much for Finance 101 — or the lessons of the Big Dig.