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Flagger frustration; Savings should be so simple.

COLUMN: In our opinion

It's an easy job, and ridiculously lucrative. Thus, it continues to be contentious.

Meanwhile, paying for people to direct traffic around construction sites continues to be a money pit for taxpayers, a perpetual pothole we've been forced to live with rather than fix.

The state last year changed the flagger rules to require use of civilians instead of off-duty officers at state-awarded projects, as long as traffic speed, volume and other safety guidelines are met.

Officials this week said the change has saved the state $10 million to date, while not resulting in any accidents or injuries over 18 months. That is real money, but it can and should be more.

Boston Transportation Commissioner Thomas Tinlin said at a hearing this week that civilian flaggers on nine Boston projects had submitted hourly rates averaging $45.82, with some bids exceeding $60 an hour, when police could handle the details for between $33 and $37 per hour.

Such jaw-dropping pay rates are atrocious and hardly meet public expectations for savings that were raised when the idea of using civilians was first broached.

A Transportation Department study last year put the pay of civilian flaggers at $32 to $37 an hour, compared with police detail pay of $32 to $42 an hour.

Because of the state's lamentable prevailing wage laws, the savings were expected to come not so much from differing pay rates, but from new rules. Civilian flaggers would be paid only for the time they actually worked at a detail site, whereas police contracts usually call for paying for a four-hour minimum shift, regardless of how long the job takes.

Moreover, Transportation Committee co-chairman Sen. Steven Baddour, D-Methuen, said the administration has placed civilian flaggers at the top of the prevailing wage scale. Mr. Baddour has sent a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick urging him to address the problem.

We concur. The state should pay flaggers at a lower rate, one commensurate with the demands of the job, and save the difference. Far too many taxpayer dollars are still flying toward flaggers.
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 9, 2010
Words:346
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