BOSTON -- Costs from one of the largest infrastructure projects in the country may be passed on to three of Massachusetts' authorities, according to a new report.
Since the first shovel broke ground in Boston on the Central Artery/Third Harbor tunnel project in the late 1980s, the project has been plagued by cost overruns and delays.
The problems have caused the project's estimated cost to rise to $8 billion from $2.2 billion in the mid-1980s.
It appears that now project officials want to pass on some of the state's portion of the costs onto the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the Massachusetts Port Authority, and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.
The plan was outlined in the project's most recent version of the "1994 Project Cost/Schedule Update."
If the plan is approved by the state legislature, then the three authorities may be authorized to issue bonds for the project. If sold, these bonds could tie the hands of the authorities to finance other critical projects in the state.
One source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said yesterday that he doubts that the authorities could get too deeply involved in the Central Artery project.
"To see those authorities sell bonds for a potentially non-revenue-generating project seems unlikely," the source said. "While it is clear that the Turnpike Authority and Massport should be involved in some way, it is not yet clear how they should be involved."
Some of the recent cost revisions would include having Massport finance the East Boston interchange section of the Central Artery, the report said.
The interchange, which is expected to cost around $100 million, would serve as a link between Logan Airport, Route 1A, and the Central Artery. Although Massport has paid for some of the design work on the interchange, the authority was not slated to pay for the construction itself.
The Transportation Authority would be held responsible for the construction of ramps to the artery off of Storrow Drive and Leverett Circle in downtown Boston.
Any ramps west of Washington Street, also in Boston, would be constructed and maintained by the Turnpike Authority.
But the Turnpike Authority's role in the project has not been fully decided, according to an agency official.
"We will not enter into any sort of consensus agreement that would put into jeopardy our current or future revenue bondholders," said James Aloisi, general counsel for the Turnpike Authority. "Any agreement between the turnpike and the Weld Administration about our role has yet to be finalized."
Aloisi also said the Turnpike Authority is working with the governor's staff members on coming to an agreement on their role in the project.
"Hopefully, both sides will come to an agreement that will be mutually beneficial," he said.
Another portion of the project, a proposed improvement plan to a park near the Charles River, might be financed by the sale of state bonds in conjunction with the Metropolitan District Commission.
The legislature has already given the commission the authority to sell up to $85 million of debt for this portion of the project.
Although the federal government has pledged to provide between 85% and 90% of the funds for the project, earlier this summer the Federal Highway Administration released a report that was highly critical of the progress made so far on the project.
The report, prepared by the office of the FHA's inspector general, said the federal government should consider capping its 85% spending pledge to the project at $7.7 billion.
After $7.7 billion, the report calls on the federal government to lower its share to 50% from 85%.
But most sources said the influence of Massachusetts' representatives in Congress reduces the possibility of such a cap.
U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, both Democrats, are powerful allies of President Clinton.