It was, in some respects, your typical "dog and pony" show Tuesday morning on the bus ramp inside the lovely Fields Corner Red Line station. Just about every politician in the 617 area code braved the chilly rain to seek a piece of the credit for bringing home the bacon for Dorchester's disintegrating train stations. Ironically, the man who most deserved the credit on Beacon Hill- House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran- was not among them.
Instead, it was Governor Paul Cellucci who made the most of the big "photo-op" by lugging along a fat $66 million "check" (actual value: $6.95 at Staples) made out to Dorchester's stations. And that was not the only present that the chief executive had in his bag of gifts.
Cellucci made fast friends in Fields Corner by proclaiming that all four Dot stations - and not just Savin Hill as originally thought- would be worked on simultaneously. On top of that, the guv promised that the check for the rehab- which could tip the scales at $100 million- will be picked up by the MBTA. If the $66 mill in cash lined up by the Dorchester delegation doesn't cover the tab, that is.
"We estimate that this total project will be anywhere from $85 million to $100 million," Cellucci told the Reporter. "We're committed to all of that money, so most of it will come out of the 66 (million). But we have sources at the T -that's now on a forward funding basis- that will complete the project."
Oh yeah, and remember that plan to replace the subway cars with shuttle buses while the stations are being repaired? Forget about it. The MBTA will keep the trains running no matter what, says the governor.
All in all, it was a coup for Cellucci. Sure, on a few occasions, you could almost hear the eyes rolling as one politician after another heaped praise on Cellucci for his commitment to restoring the "urban core." This is, after all, the same man who was vilified in February for not showing up for a DANA-sponsored Red Line forum at the Murphy School. On that night, gravel-voiced Fields Corner activist Tom Gannon waved a fluorescent sign that teased "Where's Argeo." On Tuesday, Gannon was ready to give the guv a big bear hug. He decided to give him a copy of a Dorchester history book instead.
It's hard to blame Gannon for being excited. For the former Fields Corner Civic Association president, who -along with people like Ed and Karen Crowley- have been dogging the MBTA for repairs since Cellucci was a lowly back-bencher, the idea of finally seeing results is "huge."
"This has to be the biggest neighborhood station anywhere," Gannon says of Fields Corner station. "The T is the second biggest property owner in Fields Corner besides the Fields Corner mall. It's just huge the impact this place has on our neighborhood."
Still, could it really be that all is forgiven now that the Governor has made his compulsory check presentation?
Senator Steve Lynch, who went out of his way to big-up Cellucci during his remarks, explains it this way: "In order to get things done, you have to give people credit," says Lynch. "Sure, we raised the issue, but think about it: it could have been vetoed. The money could have been appropriated to other areas that are very deserving. We got the money. You have to know when you've won."
But, not everyone is ready to go that far just yet. Another local elected official who was conspicuously absent on the bus ramp Tuesday was Rep. Marty Walsh, whose district includes three of the four Red Line stations set to be fixed. Walsh says he had a scheduling conflict, but also chimed in that the governor's press event was hastily set up, giving some of the key players just three days notice.
"That shows me that the MBTA and people in power aren't paying attention," said Walsh, who is openly skeptical about the T's plans to keep the trains running through the re-construction. Walsh (pictured left) claims that, as recently as last week, the MBTA told him they were still planning to work on one station at a time.
"With the information I've received, this is a new development," Walsh said of the Tuesday announcement. "I just hope that the MBTA aren't up to their old tricks of saying one thing and doing another.
"I have grave concerns about not stopping (train) service," says Walsh. "How can you do a good construction job while the trains are running?"
Like some of the Red Line advocates who have hiked this path before, Walsh is also nervous about the upcoming "public process" to plan out the stations' designs. Walsh says that so far the T has been doing their own thing- and have not kept elected officials in the loop.
"The MBTA has their own private meetings," says Walsh. "The MBTA does not know who the community activists are. They don't know who to invite."
Bill Walczak of Savin Hill, who attended the press conference, is equally wary of the upcoming planning process. Walczak nearly choked when he scanned the "conceptual" design sketch of the new Savin Hill station that MBTA staffers brought to the Fields Corner event. Expecting to see something more along the lines of the recently updated Quincy-Adams station- complete with atriums and escalators- Walczak said the Savin Hill looks simple and "ugly."
"It was a sixties-modern design," says Walczak. "It's all concrete."
Walczak admits he is resentful of the heavy-duty bucks that have poured into the suburbs on Cellucci's watch- and hopes that Dorchester's legislators and civic community will make sure that the new stations are worth the long wait.
"We really need to pull it together quickly now," says Walczak. "We should bring in some of the best minds we have in Dorchester around design issues and insist that they are followed.
"It's amazing to me that Governor Cellucci was thanked so much when he has vetoed millions in improvements in mass transit for the city of Boston, while expending millions for suburban towns," said Walczak. "I guess we're saying, 'Thanks for not vetoing it.
"I certainly hope that the legislators can use all of the unctuous gratitude towards Governor Cellucci to get him to put more effort into urban projects."
Sen. Lynch, however, believes that his strategy is the way to go in the long run.
"You have to give people a pat on the back for doing the right thing," says Lynch. "Otherwise, where is the incentive? If they do the right thing and we still clobber them, then the next time we come to them for something it will be pretty difficult."