GLX manager Dalton wants to stay on
MBTA’s highest-paid employee likes it here
JOHN DALTON, the manager brought in from Chicago to oversee the construction of the $2.3 billion Green Line extension into Somerville and Medford, is looking to stick around after the project is done next year.
He signed a five-year contract when he was hired in 2016 that made him the MBTA’s highest-paid employee. At the time, the future of the Green Line extension was very much up in the air. The price tag of the project under the previous oversight team had ballooned to more than $3 billion. While T officials succeeded in paring back the cost by roughly $1 billion and convinced Somerville and Cambridge to kick in $75 million, it was very unclear whether the agency had the management skills to get such a complex project up and operating.
Dalton came in and steadied the ship. He also built a template for future mega-projects. The previous oversight group for the Green Line extension consisted of just four MBTA employees. Dalton assembled a team of 43 focused solely on the Green Line extension. The goal was to get the project built and also establish a farm team from which managers of future MBTA projects could be drawn.
The completion date for the Green Line extension has slipped a bit amid COVID supply chain challenges and a recent loss of productivity. The original schedule called for service to begin at the end of this year. In June, however, the T said the Union Square branch of the line wouldn’t be finished until October and the Medford branch would take until May 2022. In October, the Union Square branch was pushed back to December; the Medford branch is still targeted for May but that deadline could also be delayed.
On the positive side, the project appears to be coming in under budget with enough money to spare that Somerville and Cambridge will get all their money back. On The Codcast, Dalton was asked whether he thinks riders will like what he and his team have built.
“It probably depends on who you ask,” he said. “If what’s important to someone is that they have a safe and reliable public transit system to get from Medford, Massachusetts, into Boston, a one-seat ride, I think they’ll be very satisfied. That’s what they’ll have. But if people fell in love with the designs that were part of what I call episode 1 – that were more than what was required, more than what was necessary, certainly in terms of what was committed to by the MBTA to our funding agencies – they may feel like, hey, this isn’t quite what we wanted. I can appreciate that. I look at those designs and they were great. They were amazing facilities. But the objective of this project always was, and certainly became when I was asked to join GLX, focus on what the requirement is and anything beyond that is not what we’re delivering. Because of that we’re in the healthy financial position we’re in and we can absorb things like COVID without blowing the budget.”
He said the multi-use community path that runs alongside the project and connects bicycle networks north and west of Boston to the city is about 90 percent complete. But he cautioned that the path won’t open until after full Green Line service begins because a major chunk of the path serves as a supply chain corridor for the Medford branch of the line.
Dalton said he’s enjoyed working on such a high-profile, highly scrutinized project. “It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I have not been disappointed,” he said. “It was kind of an easy decision for me and my family to move here when we did, and we haven’t regretted it.”With the completion time for the Green Line extension pushed back until next year, Dalton said he will need an extension on his five-year contract to see the Green Line extension through to the end. But he suggested it may make sense to sign a new deal with the T that would keep him on board for future projects. He said he and his family like it here and the T appears to have plenty of big projects on the near-term horizon. (He didn’t mention any specific projects, but two big ones being talked about are the Red-Blue subway connector and the I-90 Allston project.)
“Option A, or desire No. 1, is to stay here,” Dalton said.