« PreviousContinue »
influence to induce the Legislature of 1892 to modify, and, in fact, to almost nullify, the financial provisions of the Act of 1891. In 1893 and 1894 still further retrograde action was taken; and the result up to date has been that the original purpose of the law has been thwarted, and that it no longer is, as was intended, an act for street construction on the credit of the city, with sinking-funds or assessments equal to the loan, but has been converted into an act for street construction at public expense, and has caused a considerable increase in the net debt of the city.1
The amendments to the law of 1891 were passed against as effective a protest as the City Solicitor and the Executive Department could prepare: and the success of the speculative element in the community in inducing the Legislature to overthrow the work of 1891 is indicative of the fact, which I have so frequently had occasion to deplore, that here to a greater extent than anywhere else in the world the real-estate speculator who desires to develop his land and increase its value at public expense seems to be in control of legislation.
The sewer law of 1892. has experienced a similar fate, having been so amended by succeeding Legislatures as to have lost its chief financial merits.
The sidewalk law of 1892,4 according to which the entire cost of sidewalk construction was assessed upon abutting estates, in conformity with the practice obtaining in other cities, met with a still worse fate. It was entirely repealed in 1893.5
The result of these attempted reforms in the financial methods of street construction has thus been insatisfactory : 6
1 9894,163.77 up 10 December 31, 1894. See Appendix, Table 24. 2 St. 1892, Ch. 402.
3 St. 1894, ch. 227 anil 256 4 St. 1992, rh. 101.
St. 1893, ch. 137. This experience is nothing new. As early as 1815 Maror Quincy went to the Legislature in behalf of the city for a bill permitting street widenings hy assessment, and the bill was lost by the votes of Boston members. Another unsuccessful application was made in 1856 by Varor Rice. See also Inaugural Iduresses of Mayor Smith in 1855 anıl Mayor Lincoln in 1866. The members of the Legislature most determinel in their opposition to the construction law of 1891 have been the representatives from the suburban wards of Boston.
but some good has been accomplished. The proportion of cost assessed upon particular estates, and the corresponding benefit to the city treasury, is still greater than prior to 1891; and public attention has been directed to the subject in a manner which should prevent an entire relapse to former conditions.
It is discouraging to be obliged to chronicle the fact that the chief plunderers of the city treasury of Boston are not politicians or contractors, — for public opinion is always behind an Executive who stands up against the demands of such, - but the suburban speculators in real estate, who not only seek to secure a private and unjust advantage out of the public treasury, but, under the pretence of advocating public improvements, actually succeed. I believe that the greatest obstacle to the progress of this city and to its proper development as the metropolis of New England is the selfish owner of vacant lands, who makes no improvement at his own expense, but spends his time in agitating for the expenditure of the public funds upon local and private improvements which in other communities would be charged to him.
SECTION 4. Bridges. With the coöperation of the Commonwealth, il new bridge has been constructed over the Reserved Channel between Ward 13 and South Boston, connecting Congress street and the city proper with L street in South Boston ; the old Dover-street bridge across Fort Point Channel has been entirely rebuilt ; the bridge between North Brighton and Watertown has been rebuilt; the Chelsea-street bridge between East Boston and Chelsea, and the bridges between Charlestown and Chelsea, are being rebuilt; and loans have been allthorized with which to construct a muchneeded new bridge between the city proper and Charlestown.
SECTION 5. Grade Crossings. Those of the Boston & Albany Railroad at Cambridge and Everett streets, in Brighton, have been abolished. The crossing of the Boston & Maine Railroad at Causeway street has been discontinued, partly through the construction of the Union Station, and partly through the taking by 'the Transit
THE PUBLIC STREETS.
Commission of the terminal property of the Boston & Maine Railroad south of Causeway street; and the Boston & Maine crossings of Chelsea bridge are being abolished. On the system of the New York, New Haven, & Hartford Railroad, the grade crossings at West Fourth street and Codman street have been abolished, and arrangements have been made under special legislation for the abolition of all the grade crossings along the Providence Division, between Park square and Forest Hills. Negotiations are now in progress with this company for the abolition of the grade crossing at Dorchester avenue. The grade crossings in East Boston can best be dealt with by a complete change in the location of the railroad tracks in the manner suggested by the Rapid Transit Commission of 1891; but this cannot be done under the general gradecrossing act, and no agreement has yet been reached with the railroad companies. I have petitioned the Legislature of 1895 for relief in this matter. The question of abolishing the grade crossings of the Boston & Maine system in Charlestown and beyond abounds with difficulties; and these difficulties have been increased by the refusal of the railroad corporation to follow the advice of the Rapid Transit Commission, the Railroad Commissioners, and the City Government in respect to the manner of constructing its Union Station. The inconveniences of the plan adopted are already apparent, and the cost of abolishing the grade crossings in Charlestown, East Cambridge, and Somerville will be very much greater than if the Legislature of 1893 had not, at the instance of the corporation, rejected the bill prepared by the city and reported by the Legislative Committee on Transit.
SECTION 6. Overhead Wires. These are now being removed from the streets by the new Commissioner of Wires, under authority obtained from the Legislature of 1894, after a contest with the corporations interested lasting
SECTION 7. Compensation for the Use of Streets. Of the various corporations and individuals using the public streets for either purely private or what may be termed semi-public purposes, only the gas and electric light companies can be said to pay any compensation for the valuation privileges they enjoy. The gas and electric light companies make special prices, less than those paid by the general consumer, to the city in respect to the public lights supplied by them. Thus the price paid by the city to the electric light companies, now thirty-five cents a night, is claimed to be about the actual cost to the companies, and is admittedly less than the companies charge private citizens for the same service. The gas companies make a price for the city which is less than the price for the general consumer as fixed by the Gas Commission; the annual difference or benefit to the city of the special prices for gas used upon the streets and in the public buildings amounting, at the present time, to $30,645 per annum.
With the exception of the gas and electric light companies, none of the persons or corporations using the streets pay anything for the privilege - a condition of things generally regarded as unfair to the city treasury, which has practically to pay the entire cost of maintaining the streets in good repair, and most of the original cost for land and construction. Efforts have been made by the City Governments of the past six years to procure from the Legislature authority to impose a special tax, or otherwise to exact compensation, for the use of the public ways by the various corporations and private citizens having privileges therein. As the streets of the city and their control belong, under the decisions of our courts, to the people of the Commonwealth, and not to the municipal corporation, the city authorities have no power to exact compensation for the use of the streets unless specially authorized to do so by the Legislature. The efforts to secure this authority have hitherto been unsuccessful, partly owing to a perhaps wellfounded fear that the authority, if granted, would not be
wisely exercised; but principally to the opposition of the special interests involved. With changes in the city charter and the constitution of the legislative branch of the City Government, such as have been suggested, the first difficulty would be removed or reduced to a minimum, and I should then hope that the Legislature would see fit to grant to the City Government the right enjoyed by municipal corporations in other parts of the world to secure full compensation for all privileges granted in the streets.
SECTION 8. Street Travel. The streets of the business section of the city, never adequate for the demands of travel, have been completely diverted from their original and proper function as public highways and converted into locations for the benefit of the street-railway corporations and their patrons. After three years of agitation and discussion, in which I have felt it my duty to take an active part, the Legislature of 1894 adopted a plan,? subsequently ratified by popular vote, for the relief of the streets from the congestion due to surface cars by placing the latter in suhways constructed for the purpose. The work has been intrusted to a special commission, the members of which assure me that no financial or engineering difficulties have been discovered, and that construction will be commenced as soon as the season for work is at hand. The property of the Boston & Maine Railroad, between Haymarket square and Cariseway street, has been taken for the northern terminal of the subway. This great undertaking will, I am convinced, if carried out in the spirit of the act granting the authority, relieve our streets of the congestion due to the presence of surface cars
1 See Document 144 of 1890; inaugural addresses from 1891 to 1894; and the records of the State Leyislature for the years 1891, 1892, 1893, and 1894, in regard to various petitions and bills presented hy the Mayor, the City Solicitor, the Citizens' Association, and individual citizens. The foreign system of granting exclusive franchises for a term of years in return for a division with, the city of all dividendis declared above a certain percentage seems, on the whole, to be the most advantageous, and much preferable to the Massachusetts plan, under which the corporations get no exclusive or permaneut rights and the public gets no rent. See the bill relating to streetrailway, franchises, presented to the Legislature of 1891 on behalf of the city, and the contract with the Brookline Gas Light Co. of February 27, 1893.
* St. 1894, chap. 548. 3 By 15,5+2 to 14,162 at a special election held July 24.