Baker confident Orange Line work will get done during closure – GBH News

A day before the MBTA is scheduled to fully shut down Orange Line service for 30 days, Gov. Charlie Baker said he expects all the needed repairs will get done in that window.
“I think what we are proposing to do here is the right thing to do,” Baker said on Boston Public Radio. “I also think it creates inconvenience and issues for people in the short term, which I get, but I do believe the work will get done, because it’s much easier to do it this way than it is to come on, set up, do the work, come off — over and over and over again — which is what we’ve been doing.”
The unprecedented monthlong closure of an entire subway line for maintenance work ⁠— which Baker has said will allow crews to tackle projects that could otherwise take five years to complete ⁠— comes amid a Federal Transit Authority probe into the MBTA’s safety practices.
The governor said Thursday that he knew of some problems before the FTA flagged them, including delayed track maintenance and safety protections at train yards. But he said he was not aware of inadequate staffing at the MBTA’s operational control center before federal officials stepped in.
“I know a lot about what’s going on at the T. The OCC thing was news to me,” Baker said.
He said when he talked to MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak about the staffing concerns, Poftak informed him of “a number of very recent retirements” in their dispatch center.
Last week, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren knocked what she called “a monumental failure in leadership” around the T and said there need to be new people running the transit agency. Baker voiced confidence in Poftak, pointing out that he served on the board overseeing the T before stepping into the general manager role.
“And I don’t believe that the answer to the T is just to continue to turn over the leadership,” he said.
Baker recapped the state Legislature’s end-of-session accomplishments with hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan, pointing to a sweeping mental health bill that he signed into law and a package of cannabis industry reforms.
Lawmakers wrapped up their formal sessions for the year without finishing a $4 billion economic development bill that includes a series of tax-relief measures. Baker said he’s still optimistic that will get done, though he’s not sure what the finished product will look like.
“We’ve had conversations with both the House and the Senate about this and are trying to figure out some ground everybody can stand on,” he said.
Baker also recently signed a new climate and clean energy law that, among many other features, creates a pilot program in which 10 cities and towns will be able to restrict the use of fossil fuels in new construction or major renovations. Baker said that pilot program was the “piece of the bill that I had my biggest problem with,” as he worries about how it will interact with the “existential threat” the state is facing from the high cost and low supply of housing.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has said she plans to file legislation that would allow the state’s largest city to join in on the pilot. Ten other communities have also expressed interest.
Baker said he understands why Wu wants in and said her motives “are what I would describe as appropriate.”
“But my big worry here is that before we even figure out how to pilot, we’re already heading down a road that the Legislature promised me they weren’t going to do, which is just open this door up and basically say, ‘Anybody who wants to come in through this door can,'” Baker said.
A listener texted in to ask Baker if he would support U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney if she runs for president in 2024. The Wisconsin Republican lost her primary to a challenger backed by former President Donald Trump. Cheney serves on the U.S. House Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection, and has been outspoken in criticizing Trump.
“It depends on who else runs for president,” Baker said. “But I think Liz Cheney has shown an enormous amount of integrity front and center all the way through this whole process.”
Katie Lannan covers the State House for GBH News.
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