A recent Boston Globe story by Stephanie Ebbert about squabbling between two state agencies involved in the rehabilitation of a local bridge has prompted me to start a new occasional series on this blog. People who don't know about my lives before health care may not know that I am an infrastructure junkie. For reasons my daughters consider very odd, I love roads, bridges, sewage treatment plants, electricity cables, and the like. If you are not interested in this topic, stop reading, but from time to time, I'm going to relate stories to you about this field, but mainly positive ones, where creative public officials and others have made the fabric of urban life better for the public -- in ways that never, ever make the newspapers.
Here's the first. Back in 1999 or so, I was Administrative Dean at Harvard Medical School. Connie Cepko, one of our faculty members, called one day. Her complaint: Riding to work on her bicycle every day, she noticed that the Longwood Avenue bridge over the Muddy River and the MBTA tracks was full of dangerous potholes. What could I do about this, she wondered.
Actually, I knew that I could do nothing, at least within a normal human lifespan. That bridge is a jurisdictional nightmare. It is at the border of two municipalities (Boston and Brookline), spans a transit line (MBTA), and also goes over a state park (owned at that time by the Metropolitan District Commission). Just figuring out who would be responsible for the road paving would take decades, much less getting the right person to order a repair.
So, I called Rick Shea, who was the President of MASCO, our non-profit planning and service entity for the schools and hospitals in the Longwood Area. The next day, Connie called to thank me for getting the potholes filled and a new, smooth surface on the bridge. "My pleasure," I replied, wondering what happened.
I called Rick and he said, "I knew it would be impossible to find someone of authority to make this repair, so I just hired an asphalt firm and had the work done. Each jurisdiction -- if they noticed -- probably thought it was the responsibility of another. Therefore, no complaints. Job accomplished. Happy to help."