Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick moved Friday to defuse a potential political time bomb by announcing he will no longer use federal economic stimulus money to pay for a pedestrian footbridge sought by the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots.
Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Mullan said the $9 million project will be funded with "other non-ARRA dollars," using the acronym for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He said a possible source is state economic growth money.
"We didn't reverse on the bridge; we reversed on the funding for the bridge," Mullan said.
The change came three weeks after the Metropolitan Planning Organization approved using stimulus money for the project despite criticism the decision was politically motivated. Patrick is up for re-election next fall, and among his critics were Treasurer Timothy Cahill, a former Democrat now running for governor as an independent, and the Massachusetts Republican Party.
A month before the approval, team owner Robert Kraft and his wife, Myra, made the maximum allowable campaign contributions to Patrick and the Massachusetts Democratic Party. In the case of the governor, that was $500 each; in the case of the party, that was $5,000 each.
A year earlier, Robert Kraft gave similar donations to Patrick and the party as the state was designating his property a special growth district. The donations were Kraft's first to the governor and first in four years to the party. About the same time, Patrick was seen with Kraft in a luxury box at Gillette Stadium.
At the time, Patrick denied a quid pro quo. He did so again last month, telling The Associated Press, "There's no 'there' there."
The governor added: "We're making these decisions on the merits. ... There are others who have asked for investment of Recovery Act dollars or federal bonding dollars who have contributed to us and we've said no because those projects did not stand on their own."
The Krafts are proposing to use a 500-acre site across the street from Gillette Stadium for an office park. The planned bridge would connect parking lots on both sides of busy Route 1 and allow patrons of the office site to reach not only the stadium, but also the Krafts' Patriot Place entertainment plazas.
Patrick said the project would create 4,500 permanent jobs and 4,000 construction jobs. He proclaimed the project "shovel-ready" during the Nov. 13 interview, but Mullan said Friday his analysts had since determined it would not be ready to bid by a deadline in late February.
"Nobody would expect the governor to be aware of all of the details that go into every single project," he said.
The stimulus money that was to have been spent on the footbridge will now be spent on other work. Mullan said two other projects in Amherst and Worcester will also no longer be financed with stimulus money for similar reasons.
Instead, the reconstruction of Route 116 at Atkins Corner in Amherst, priced at $2.4 million, and work around the Blackstone Canal in Worcester, priced at $7.5 million, will be financed with state bridge repair funds.
A Patriots official said the team was not involved in the decision.
"That decision is coming from the Statehouse. That doesn't affect us at all. We're not involved in that process," said team spokesman Stacey James.