Friday, July 2, 2010

Too Much Construction in Massachusetts

When President Obama announced his stimulus plans for the US economy, he might have envisioned himself as a 21st-century FDR, buffering employment through a modern-day Works Progress Administration of federal and state government projects.
Yet there is a hidden cost to such laudable efforts … the cost of annoyance to the state residents who actually have to put up with so much construction.
My home state of Massachusetts, for example, has become a cesspool of construction jobs big and small. In the morning, North Cambridge residents wake up to the soothing sound of jackhammers as workers tear up city streets. Afternoon dog-walkers must hurry past huge clouds of dust forming near Route 16 and pass unsightly views of uprooted trees near the Alewife T station. Police cruisers and construction vehicles make major highways (95 South, for instance) seem like Dante’s Inferno with their blinding lights and Cerberus-like presence at night.
I will admit that there is a place for construction. Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel taught me this as a kid. And as someone who’s been in cars on potholed streets in other countries (such as, I must admit, in my father’s native city of San Luis Potosi, Mexico), I know how bad it is to leave public property in poor condition. Yet Massachusetts is overdoing it. It seems that everywhere you look, you see an orange-and-white construction drum, an orange cone, and the flashing lights of police cruisers.
It is time for Gov. Deval Patrick to curtail the construction. It adds to noise pollution, it represents a distraction for drivers, and as those who watched the Big Dig slouch towards completion, it will never end, not so long as there are patronage positions to fill. Patrick made a courageous stand against one segment of the Augean stables when he took on police details, despite resistance by the political machine. Now, for the sake of state residents, he needs to try again.
History has too often celebrated people who like to build things … King Hezekiah erecting walls around Jerusalem … the Romans with their highways, baths and aqueducts … Baron Haussmann spreading out the streets of Paris for Napoleon III. Obama may want to join that lustrous list and stand up for those who are out of work, but Patrick should stand up for an equally deserving constituency -- those who have to deal with the inconvenience of such work -- and cut down the construction projects. I hear those casinos and wind farms could offer some nice employment alternatives.

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