Is someone talking about transportation reform?

Rep. Joseph Wagner, the House transportation committee chairman, competed with chattering colleagues as work began on the transportation reform bill in the House chamber Tuesday afternoon. Wagner opened the session with praise for the Senate's insistence on reform before revenue.  “The public requires that,” he said, referring to reform, “if not demands it at this point."

He went on to outline the major differences between Massachusetts Transportation and Infrastructure Authority (as the new agency is known in the House bill) and the current set up.  Calling the new model "a hybrid somewhere between a traditional agency and an authority model completely independent of the commonwealth," he explained that the MTIA would house a Department of Transportation made up of five divisions: highway, mass transit (excluding the MBTA), registry of motor vehicles, aeronautics and a "division of constituent and municipal services." A summary of the bill is here.

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Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

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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.

A five-member board chaired by the governor would oversee the whole shebang. According to the State House News Service (subscription required), the secretary of transportation, who currently heads both the MBTA and Massachusetts Turnpike Authority boards would be barred from chairing the new authority's board. This body would also oversee the MBTA, displacing the authority’s current board.

No doubt lawmakers are so well-versed in the more than 200 pages of legislation (plus nearly 200 amendments) that they didn't need Wagner's summary. But finally the absurdity of the overt socializing dawned on at least one member. “Pay attention to the gentleman at the microphone," intoned a gavel-thwapping Speaker Pro-Tempore Thomas Petrolati.

Wagner thanked his "good friend, the lady from Amherst" (presumably Rep. Ellen Story) for standing up to indicate that she couldn’t hear a thing. The Chicopee Democrat continued with his remarks and his colleagues resumed theirs.