We are hopefully nearing the end of a historic and troublesome Winter in the northeastern United States. In fact, it was not until this week that many of the cars on Boston’s streets were freed from what we thought were icy graves. Also, it finally seems that the MBTA is slowly but surely returning from having one foot in its own grave.
This Winter and the attendant transportation problems brought into full view of the general public what we in the construction industry in Massachusetts have known for years. Boston is old, the roads are old, the bridges and tunnels (with the exception of those stemming from the Big Dig) are old and the subway, trolley and commuter rail system is older. In fact, Boston has the oldest subway system and some of the oldest roads in continuous use in the country. In short, the infrastructure system in this old city needs some tender loving care. Based on just the MBTA’s estimate of a need for $300 Million for power and signal improvements alone, the fiscal need for roads, bridges and rail certainly stretches into the several billions of dollars.
All of that said, the thing on the lips and in the minds of Bostonians and New Englanders these days is Boston’s bid for the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad in the summer of 2024. This is exciting and intriguing news for Boston, New England and the country. The last summer games hosted in the USA were in Atlanta in 1996. The plan put forward by Boston 2024 (the group spearheading Boston’s bid) is ambitious and includes several new and temporary structures and significant infrastructure improvements. The plan is clearly designed to highlight Boston as a world class city and sporting and travel destination.
(You can view the plan overview http://cdn.2024boston.org/docs/USOC_Submission_1.pdf)
Taking that into account (and being blessed with certain construction industry contacts around town) over the last few weeks I took a wholly unscientific poll of some construction stakeholders. The (once again wholly unscientific and completely anecdotal) evidence seems to suggest the following: (1) folks in the construction industry are excited that a successful Olympic bid could bring about boom times that Boston has not seen since the Big Dig; (2) many professionals mentioned that infrastructure improvements (with a close eye on public transit) must be a primary focus for Massachusetts regardless of whether or not the Olympics come to town – and certainly should be at the top of the list if Boston does host the Games.
It would be tough to argue that an Olympic size building program would not be a boon for the New England construction industry. What’s not tough to argue is that the roads, bridges and rails that we have today only just (if even not completely) support regular commuter traffic in good weather. As such, it seems obvious that if Boston is to host a world-class Olympic Games and be seen as a world class host city, Boston needs billions of dollars and many years of work to make world class improvements to the far less than world-class infrastructure we have today. We all remember the Big Dig – the questions in my mind are: (1) are funds available to do things right and for the long term (as opposed to a series of band-aids focused on the Olympics alone); and (2) is 9 years enough time?