The Massachusetts Department of Transportation‘s Highway Division was formed from a merger of the Massachusetts Highway Department and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. After the merge Luisa Paiewonsky has overseen the joined organizations and was previously the highway department commissioner. Eric Moskowitz, a reporter of the Boston Globe, has recently interviewed Paiewonsky bringing Massachusetts drivers a better understanding of just what’s happening with our representatives and roads.
Q. What does your job entail?
A. I am responsible for running the state highway system, and the highway division that has jurisdiction over the state highway system. That includes a little over 10,000 lane miles of roads. We have responsibilities for a little under 5,000 bridges, and we have 3,300 employees working from the Berkshires to Cape Cod and the Islands. We are responsible for everything from interstate highways to a number of biking paths, timber bridges, large roads, small roads, everything in between. And that includes not only building and maintaining them but clearing them of snow, cutting the grass, and preserving the bridges.
Q. How much is spent on construction and how much on maintenance?
A. Last year we spent $771 million on construction and we probably spent another $150 million on maintenance. We would always love to spend more on maintenance, because it’s the most efficient way to use the dollars. It buys more service life out of roads and bridges.
Q. I understand that construction spending has more than doubled in the last few years. What are the reasons?
A. The first is Governor Patrick, as one of his first acts in office, greatly expanded our construction budget on the rationale that we had a large number of backed-up projects, and highway construction creates a lot of jobs. So that was a major infusion of dollars into our core program, the Statewide Road and Bridge Program.
About a year and a half later he signed the Accelerated Bridge Program [after the Minnesota bridge collapse]. That gave us $3 billion over eight years to improve the safety and condition of bridges across the state. And then the following year we got almost $450 million in stimulus funds.
Q. What’s something we learned from another state, and how do we rate nationally?
A. The most important measure is that we have the safest roads in the nation [measuring fatalities per vehicle miles traveled], but we’re not even satisfied with that. We want to reduce fatalities even further. We’re just ending a four-year program to reduce fatalities by 20 percent, and we will hit that target at the end of this year, and then we’re going to set a new goal.
Our interstate highways are in the top 12 nationally for pavement condition. We’d like to improve the condition of our other national highway system roads. I think we’re well known for being a multimodal state DOT in that our highway design guide is one of the best in the nation for welcoming bicyclists and pedestrians.
Many people in the Highway Division can’t take a trip on vacation or for business or any other reason without looking at other states’ roads or bringing back ideas.
I noticed traveling up to Maine that they had street signs on overpasses to help drivers know where they were. So we decided to not only add street names to the overpasses but the towns. And that’s a very small investment that provides a large service to millions of people a day.
For the full interview please visit Boston.com.