All aboard for MassDOT

"This is new, and anything new draws critics."

Ever mindful of the less-than-stellar reception his picks for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board of directors received on Beacon Hill and beyond, Gov. Deval Patrick delivered this pithy observation during his opening remarks at the board's first meeting Monday.

He went on to advise directors Andrew Whittle, Janice Loux, John Jenkins, Elizabeth Levin, and Ferdinand Alvaro to "focus on what the traveling public thinks and needs."

But what the traveling public thinks and needs will wait until another day.

Housekeeping items dominated the board's first meeting: the approval of bylaws; hashing out details like the monetary thresholds for contracts and related change orders; and dealing with liabilities associated with assets taken over from other state departments, such as the Department of Conservation and Recreation's urban roads and bridges.

Secretary of Transportation Jeffrey Mullan also announced the Patrick administration's latest foray into commission-land. A new group, the Transportation Reform Implementation Commission — headed by Alan Macdonald, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable — will oversee the reform effort "for the next couple of years," according to the transportation secretary. 

Asked later about the commission's charge, Mullan said that Macdonald would be free to define the work of the outside group of experts as he sees fit and that the group would not duplicate the work of the board.

But the storm clouds are already gathering. The one subject that didn't make it on to the agenda was the financial condition of the various divisions that make up the new transportation behemoth.

Each director had been supplied with the financials for each division, but Mullan cautioned midway through the two-hour meeting that  "we don't have enough time to discuss that."

However, he assured the board that monthly reports on assets and liabilities, and how they measure up against the fiscal year's budget, would be forthcoming at future meetings.

But when Alvaro, a former MBTA board member who chaired a subcommittee that looked at that agency's finances, later asked how bond proceeds related to revenue shortfalls, Mullan responded, "Those would be alarming."

Levin then requested that future financial reports to the board "highlight those areas that [you] worry about at night."

"We haven't slept in months," said Mullan.

Meet the Author

Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

They'll be even more sleepless nights this week.

The Patrick administration releases the "top-to-bottom review" of the the MBTA's finances and management Wednesday.