Walsh cuts to chase on infrastructure and the Games bid

For three months now, it has been the one question that has vexed local observers — including those of us at the Reporter— more than any other: How much will it cost state taxpayers to fix local roads and MBTA stations (such as the JFK-UMass station and Kosciuszko Circle) that are critical to siting the Summer Games in the city of Boston?

At first, Boston 2024 officials insisted that no new public dollars would be needed because the projects they envisioned were already in the pipeline through a 2014 state transportation bond bill.

When the Reporter pointed out that those projects are not yet funded— and, in fact, don’t even exist as projects — the 2024 camp re-trenched to a new position, that, in fact, these projects aren’t essential to running the Games. Sure, they’d be nice, but if they don’t get funded and built, we can do without them. Come again? You’re going to build a 140-acre Olympic Athletes Village on traffic-choked Columbia Point and not rebuild the road system or upgrade the 88-year-old Red Line station?

Well, we’re not the only ones who found that claim unlikely.

You can count Mayor Marty Walsh among the Dorchester residents who say that those infrastructure fixes will absolutely need to happen if the Games are coming to town.

In an exclusive interview with the Reporter that was published online last Thursday, Mayor Walsh said he would demand that such upgrades be part of any Olympic deal. And, yes, the mayor acknowledged, that will come with a cost to taxpayers. “We’re absolutely going to need state and probably city money for infrastructure,” said Walsh. “And some would probably come from [a] bond bill, but there’ll probably need to be another appropriation.”

There is no wiggle room as far as Walsh is concerned on whether the Games could get done without fixes to Morrissey Boulevard— and in particular Kosciuszko Circle. “I’ve made it perfectly clear that Kosciuszko is an opportunity to get reconstructed if the Olympic Village were to go to Bayside. As resident of Boston and Dorchester, I’d insist that they’d have to fix them with the sheer volume of people [expected] for that three-week period. You need to upgrade the infrastructure.”

Walsh says he thinks that the Olympics will be the “catalyst” needed to finally get roadway improvements — including some that he fought to push through as a young lawmaker in the 1990s. “Whether or not we get the Olympics, Kosciuszko Circle needs to be fixed and there’s going to be state and, in some cases, city money needed. This conversation, even without the Olympics, the conversation has to be had. We had the Morrissey plan [back in the 1990s] and we weren’t able to get it funded.”

“It’s the same with the MBTA,” Walsh said. “It forces a real serious conversation about the MBTA and Kosciuszko Circle and Widett Circle.”

“I think that the last three weeks have certainly been challenging as far as having a conversation,” said Walsh. “Now it’s time to have a true conversation about what it means for the city of Boston.”

It is expressly this sort of candor from the mayor that is sorely needed in the Olympics conversation moving forward.