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My Turn: Signs of Mass. divisions

Dear Gov. Patrick:

I am writing first of all to congratulate you on your handling of the Boston Marathon bombing crisis last week. I know in moments like this it must be difficult to resist the urge for self-congratulation and the temptation to buy into the prevailing jingoism and sloganeering, but I’d like to take a moment to let you and the administrators at Mass DOT know why the electronic robosignage on Interstate 91 here in western Mass., proclaiming “We are one Boston” is quite literally misplaced, not to mention culturally insensitive.

In most cases when these signs are deployed their messages are merely annoying and geographically inappropriate (the usual content, pertaining to weather-related traffic disruptions in the eastern part of the state for example). Does one really need to know about traffic delays in Boston when driving north on I-91 toward Brattleboro? (Of course this is probably because the entire system has one message, sent out with a simply mouse click by someone in an office in Metro Boston who likely has never even been to western Mass., another, admittedly trivial, reminder of the “one-size-fits-all” mentality of the impersonal digitized age in which we live).

But the real point here is not the presence of unnecessary and annoying signage that impedes our views, it’s the “We are one Boston” bit. We in western Mass. are all too aware of the attitude of our eastern Mass. brethren, best expressed by then 1994 senate candidate Mitt Romney, when he said (I’m paraphrasing here) “he’d traveled the entire state — from “Boston to Worcester!”

Were the citizens of the Greenwich, Dana, Prescott and Enfield considered “one Boston” when they were forced to abandon their towns to make room for your water supply (for the historically challenged in eastern Mass., I’m talking about the executive fiat in the 1930s that created the Quabbin Reservoir)? How about the discriminatory mileage tax (proposed by eastern Mass. legislators) on those who must commute by car to work because they live in rural areas with no public transportation? Given the opacity of the shell game known as the state budget process, does anyone really think that the funds generated by such a tax wouldn’t just disappear into that sinkhole of debt known as the big dig (which we in western Mass. never should have been forced to contribute to in the first place)? And your predecessors a couple of generations ago, who conned rural schools into regionalizing with the promise of full reimbursement for transportation costs? Have you righted that wrong by restoring that funding so that rural regional schools don’t have to lay off teachers and cancel sports and arts programs in order to pay for gas for the school buses, or are you and your colleagues in state government continuing to stand idly by, reneging on that promise year after year?

So you’ll excuse us if we are happy with the job you did in dealing with the marathon crisis but nonetheless offended by these stupid signs, and hope you’ll exercise a bit more cultural sensitivity by removing them from I-91. They might be more appropriate and useful if they were placed on I-93 in southern New Hampshire, whose inhabitants likely share your cultural values and benefit a lot more from your infrastructure (and our tax dollars) anyway.

Andy Jaffe, a Conway resident, is director of the Williams College Jazz Program.

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