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As transportation secretary departs after short tenure, 'a lot of confidence' in new MassDOT leader

Water from a lawn sprinkler is used to keep dust down in the tunnel as Derek Kwartler walks through as the MassDOT hosted a hard-hat tour of the Sumner tunnel to demonstrate progress during its closure and construction, Tuesday, July 25, 2023, in Boston.
David L. Ryan
AP Pool / The Boston Globe
Water from a lawn sprinkler is used to keep dust down in the tunnel as Derek Kwartler walks through as the MassDOT hosted a hard-hat tour of the Sumner tunnel to demonstrate progress during its closure and construction, Tuesday, July 25, 2023, in Boston.

This week marks the first significant departure from the Healy administration.

Transportation Secretary Gina Fiandaca resigns as of Monday, setting that bar for the shortest serving transportation secretary in Massachusetts going back more than 50 years.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: During Fiandaca's short tenure, has she set up MassDOT and the troubled MBTA with enough direction, or is her departure going to cause concern?

Colin Young, SHNS: That's definitely something we're going to find out in the coming weeks and maybe even months.

Gina Fiandaca short tenure as transportation secretary was incredibly busy. The Department of Transportation brought on a new general manager for the MBTA. The T is working to repair its tracks and get the train car manufacturer back up to speed. MassDOT also this summer undertook the closure of the Sumner Tunnel to do renovation work there.

So it was definitely a productive couple of months under Fiandaca. And what I've been hearing from most folks about MassDOT, moving forward, is that they're really comfortable with the fact that Undersecretary Monica Tibbitts-Nutt will be the one stepping into the secretary's role, at least on a temporary basis.

It was interesting, when the Healey administration announced Fiandaca as transportation secretary, they did it at the same time that they announced Monica Tibbitts-Nutt as undersecretary. So, for some people, there was always a feeling that Monica Tibbitts-Nutt was sort of the secretary-in-waiting. And there certainly seems to be a lot of confidence that she'll be able to keep things running smoothly as she steps into the acting secretary role.

This week, barriers to access will be the focus of a hearing on Beacon Hill. Nationally, those with diagnosed disabilities make up more than a quarter of the population. On top of that, thousands of Massachusetts residents are caretakers for disabled family members. What are some of the challenges holding back Massachusetts persons with disabilities that lawmakers have filed legislation to change?

Yeah, there's a real interesting bill up for a hearing on Tuesday at the Statehouse. Legislation filed by Reps Angelo Puppolo and Bud Williams of Springfield. And this would require public buildings, public parks, rest areas, public accommodations to have at least one restroom facility that includes what's known as a universal changing table.

These are changing tables not for infants, but for older children or adults who have disabilities and who might need to be changed while they're out in public. If there's not a place to change them, then they or their caretaker might decide it's just easier not to go at all. But that leads to isolation and really isn't what advocates for people with disabilities want to see happening.

We now have a better sense of what questions could appear on the Massachusetts ballot in 2024. Attorney General Andrea Campbell gave the OK to some three dozen potential questions. One would end MCAS testing as a graduation requirement. But Campbell's approval doesn't mean any of these questions will be going before voters. So what are the next steps?

That's right. There's still a long road ahead before next November's ballot.

All of the potential ballot questions that were certified last week by the attorney general — the hard work really now begins for those campaigns. They have to go out and collect almost 75,000 signatures around Massachusetts and file those with local officials by mid to late November of this year. So just more than two months to get about 75,000 signatures.

That's a time-consuming process. That's also a really expensive process for a lot of campaigns. If you don't have the people to actually go out and collect signatures themselves, you have to pay signature-gathering companies and that gets very pricey.

So, first up is gathering the signatures and getting those onto file. But some of these questions — I'm thinking particularly of the question, perhaps the proposed ballot question that would allow for rent control to make a return in Massachusetts — some of those could be challenged in court, the certification that is. And that would also take up time and money for the people proposing these questions.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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