Pollack’s dilemma: Be careful what you wish for

When Gov. Charlie Baker tapped Stephanie Pollack as transportation secretary, it was a choice that surprised many on both sides. How would one of the state’s most passionate advocates for public transportation carry out the vision of a fiscally conservative boss perceived to be more bottom-line oriented?

For nearly a year, it’s worked out pretty well, but now Pollack is being confronted with a choice that was actually of her own doing: Move forward with the long-promised Green Line extension that was part of the Big Dig mitigation or abandon the ambitious plan and lose $742 million, plus another billion in federal funds.

The irony is Pollack was part of the Conservation Law Foundation when it forced the state into the agreement to build the extension. The CLF has been pushing for the extension since 1990, when Massachusetts was cited for not being in compliance with the Clean Air Act, and urged the Dukakis administration to build the extension.

The Patrick administration finally committed to the full 4.7-mile project in 2007 and, after some predictable starts and stops, the design and search for a contractor started in earnest after the Legislature authorized it in 2011.

But Pollack is discovering, as one observer said, the “difference between suing and doing.” Despite her all-in efforts as part of CLF and as a researcher at the Dukakis Center at Northeastern University, Pollack has had to hit the brakes on the project because of a nearly $1 billion overrun that brought the extension cost from nearly $2 billion to $3 billion and the highest cost-per-mile of any transit project in the country. For the state that brought you the Big Dig, that’s saying something.

Among the choices Pollack has laid on the table, and the one she emphatically cites, is killing the entire project. It’s hard to know if Pollack is doing the administration’s bidding or if it’s the realism of an advocate who has entered into the inner circle and found things aren’t always as they appear.

Pollack and her staff are exploring all options, such as scaling back the design, eliminating some stations, using bus service, tearing up the contract and putting the entire plan out to bid again, or negotiating with the current contractor to see if it can move forward without a restart.

There are 1.7 billion reasons for Pollack to find a solution short of killing the project and they all have dollar signs in front of them. The MBTA has already committed $742 million in “sunk costs” between contracts for new trains and the start of construction in the first phase. Abandoning the plan would also cost the state $1 billion in federal funds, something officials certainly don’t want to disappear if they hope to make this dream a reality.

But as Pollack takes the commuter rail or Green Line back to her Newton home each day, she certainly has to be thinking how much easier it was to advocate for a cause rather than be the one to find the path to bring the plan to fruition. In her case, however, she’s both and you have to wonder which Pollack she’s cursing – the old or the new.

JACK SULLIVAN

 

BEACON HILL

Massachusetts receives $120 million in federal disaster assistance to deal with fallout from last winter. (Associated Press)

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito condemned Donald Trump’s “divisive comments about Muslims,” but earlier she declined to say whether she would support Trump if he was the Republican nominee for president. (State House News)

Under pressure from state lawmakers, the State Police drop plans to close the barracks in Brookfield. (Telegram & Gazette)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A new waterfront park next to Boston’s Children’s Museum will be named in honor of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old Dorchester boy killed in the Boston Marathon bombings. (Boston Globe)

Roxbury residents discuss how to have greater say in development projects. Meanwhile, Fenway residents are up in arms after longtime Clearway Street apartment dwellers were forced out only to discover that Berklee College of Music students are moving in. (Bay State Banner)

Six Greater Boston mayors ink a compact pledging to work collaboratively to grow the region’s economy. (Boston Herald)

The Herald pinpoints where discarded hypodermic needles have been found in Boston.

CASINOS

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission selects Edward Bedrosian Jr., a former Middlesex County prosecutor, as its executive director. (State House News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia drew gasps from onlookers when, during oral arguments over an affirmative action program at the University of Texas, he said black scientists might do better in “lesser schools” instead of schools “that are too fast for them.” (STAT)

A federal judge rules Texas cannot ban Syrian refugees. (Governing)

ELECTIONS

The Republicans are fretting over the possibility that Donald Trump may cost them control of Congress. (Politico) Meanwhile, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unamused by his latest remarks about Muslims, Trump delays a trip to Israel until “after he becomes president.” (Time) The Globe editorial page takes a one-two punch at Trump, with a newspaper editorial urging leading Republicans to repudiate him and declare they would not support his candidacy as the party nominee and columnist Joanna Weiss calling on CNN to uninvite him from next week’s scheduled GOP presidential debate.

Dianne Wilkerson, the former Roxbury state senator and convicted felon, cracks the door open wider to a possible future run for office. (Boston Herald)

Jimmy McMillan of New York’s “The Rent is Too Damn High” party is stepping down. He has not yet announced a succession plan. (Fortune)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Globe reports that Boston’s Seaport is on the short list of locations for a new corporate headquarters for General Electric.

“I am deeply sorry it happened,” the founder of Chipotle says on the Today show about a norovirus at the company’s Cleveland Circle outlet in Boston that sickened some 120 customers. (Boston Globe)

How many is too many, asks the Globe about business bigwigs who sit on multiple corporate boards.

The Boston City Council green-lights the redevelopment of the city-owned Winthrop Square garage into a mixed-used high rise. (Boston Herald)

Virginia-based CarMax, the largest used car sales company in the country, is landing in Massachusetts. (Boston Globe)

Biogen is trying to decide whether, after company layoffs, they need to expand their Kendall square offices. (Boston Business Journal)

Threats of restrictions on buying and ownership more than safety concerns are the biggest drivers of gun sales. (New York Times)

EDUCATION

An overhaul of the No Child Left Behind law clears Congress and is on its way to the president, who is expected to sign the bill today. The Every Child Succeeds Act pulls back the federal government’s oversight of schools, a move that Republicans and teachers unions are cheering, but some Democrats and civil rights groups are worried about. (CommonWealth)

The state declares Madison Park High School in Boston underperforming. (WBUR)

UMass President Marty Meehan vowed to support UMass Darmouth but declined to talk about why he sought to replace outgoing Chancellor Divina Grossman. (Standard-Times)

An investigative report alleges that emotionally-disabled children at a Holyoke public school were subjected to systematic physical and emotional abuse by staff members. (Boston Globe)

A Beverly police officer says fellow officers and members of the State Police visited the home of the principal of Swampscott High School on the day he was placed on administrative leave. (The Item)

Massachusetts Teachers Association president Barbara Madeloni pens a Globe op-ed denouncing charter schools.

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Attorney General Maura Healey names Don Berwick, who favors a single-payer health care system, to the Health Policy Commission. (State House News)

The Fall River Redevelopment Authority has given approval for a medical marijuana company to buy 12 acres in the city-owned biopark to build a cultivation facility if the firm can get a state license. (Herald News)

One in five American kids has abnormal levels of cholesterol. (Time)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Stalled net metering legislation on Beacon Hill puts a big solar deal negotiated by Andover on hold, and possibly may kill it. (Eagle-Tribune)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A psychologist testifies that the school surveillance videos of Philip Chism suggest he knew what he was doing was wrong when he murdered his teacher, Colleen Ritzer. (Salem News)

Worcester police say a ring of grave robbers appears to be active in the area. (Telegram & Gazette)

Robert Lewis Dear, calling himself a “warrior for the babies,” admits his guilt in the assault on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado that killed three and wounded nine. (Time)

A Westford woman is charged with poisoning the miniature schnauzer belonging to her neighbor, apparently because she couldn’t stand the dog’s barking. (The Sun)

‘Tis the season: A Randolph man was busted for trying to smuggle 200 grams of cocaine stuffed inside Christmas ornaments. (The Enterprise)

MEDIA

A Salem News editorial calls Judge David Lowy’s decision to limit reporting on a neuropsychologist’s testimony in the trial of Philip Chism “unconscionable.” Lowy acted on a motion by the Essex County District Attorney’s office.

Chazy Dowaliby, longtime editor of both the Patriot Ledger and Brockton Enterprise, is stepping down. She’ll continue as a consultant to the papers after she leaves in January.

The Boston Globe introduces a $100,000 Spotlight fellowship. (Boston Globe)

The Cape Cod Times suggests that parents have to figure out how to control kids’ media consumption, but they also have to do more to understand what they are dealing with.

The New York Times identifies the five stories that readers spent the most time with in 2015. Terrorism? War? Obama? No, the big winner was a Modern Love column on the 36 questions that lead to love.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is the focus of season 2 of Serial. (New Yorker)