Beverly Scott is nearly two months removed from her tenure as general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, but she's far from out of the picture.
"I'm on a journey," she said in an interview during a break in her whirlwind schedule that included visits to Indianapolis and New York. "People are buzzing me now from Chicago."
The outspoken Scott, a transit lifer who ran Greater Boston's system for three years, resigned in February amid a political firestorm that erupted when an unusually harsh winter that included a record 109 inches of snow paralyzed parts of the system's subway and commuter rail lines. She quit moments after the board of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which oversees the MBTA, gave her a unanimous vote of confidence.
"It was a Mother Nature event," she said. "It was horrifying."
Scott, 63, now directs her advocacy for new infrastructure investment to where she believes change must initiate, at the state and local levels.
"Washington's still in gridlock," she said. "We're not going to get the big one out of Washington."
Congress voted right before Memorial Day to extend federal transportation and infrastructure funding for two months - essentially punting a long-term funding extension to the summer. Federal lawmakers expect to debate more long-term measures when they return in early June.
Regional transit, meanwhile, is rife with uncertainty. Northeast question marks include the structure of the MBTA, subject to vitriolic politicking among state lawmakers; a $14 billion shortfall in the proposed capital plan of New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority; and a light-rail Purple Line project in Maryland, which Gov. Larry Hogan has threatened to kill over costs.
"I'm thinking much more will happen at the state and local level," said Scott, a Cleveland native. "We can't give the federal government a pass, but we can't stand still, either. We have to keep the ball moving at the local and regional levels."
Scott cited California, where voters in 20 counties representing more than 80% of the population have passed measures - which require two-thirds supermajorities - to add sales taxes for transportation projects.
Newer state initiatives include Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo's proposal days ago for user fees on large commercial trucks to backstop a 10-year, $700 million revenue bond for statewide infrastructure repair. Coined RhodeWorks, it seeks to attract an additional $400 million in federal matching funds for public transit.
In Massachusetts, House and Senate leaders approved imposing a control board to oversee management of the "T," as locals call the system, for three to five years.
Other features of Baker's far-reaching overhaul proposal, however, face headwinds. Boston Carmen's Union Local 589, the T's largest union, has threatened to sue the commonwealth or petition the federal government to cut off millions of dollars in aid for the authority if state lawmakers approve a measure to give the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board - now stacked with Baker appointees -- final approval of labor contracts.
The MBTA, which runs the nation's oldest subway system, has a maintenance backlog that far exceeds its announced $6.7 billion, according to a report Baker's blue-ribbon commission released in April. Some trains on the Red and Orange subway lines go back to the late 1960s. Other impediments to change at the authority include arcane pro-union rules and the 1993 Pacheco Law, which effectively roadblocks contracts with the private sector by requiring payment of union wages.
"Beverly Scott was absolutely in a no-win situation," said Joshua Schank, chief executive of the Washington think tank Eno Center for Transportation. "I don't blame her at all. I'm sure she didn't do everything perfectly, but she's well-known as a competent and likeable leader in Atlanta and elsewhere.
"I think it's good that she got out on her own terms. Frankly, I'm not sure if any system would have survived what Boston went through."
Scott's highly animated press conferences during the crisis drew national attention.
"I have been through hurricanes, I've been through World Trade Center bombings, tornadoes coming, 30 inches, 36 inches and all that, so this ain't this woman's first rodeo," she told reporters in Boston on Feb. 10. "This is not a spring-chicken system by any stretch of the imagination. To think that it's going to have the resilience to be rebounding and flying like an eagle, that is absolutely the epitome of and I'm not going to say foolish."
In Boston, Scott also encountered an insular system.
"I like the people and love the area," she said. "I had a good run. I love the T. Love it! But the T has always been insular. They're curmudgeonly. I laugh and tell the people they cannot communicate with themselves the way they have the past 100 years. They cannot afford the insularity."
Before Boston, Scott was chief executive of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. Her resume, which spans 40 years, includes top leadership positions at the Sacramento Regional Transit District and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority - the latter among four statewide public transit systems in the U.S.
Scott also held senior-level positions at New York MTA and New Jersey Transit. She oversaw MTA bus operations in the early 1990s and recalls current Chairman Thomas Prendergast rising through the ranks.
"Tom is fun to watch," said Scott. "If you had asked me 25 years ago if Tom really wanted to be chairman, I'd have said hmmm, maybe not. But he does know the business. Also, not a lot of engineers can make the transition of being able to get a handle on the political side. A lot of people on the operations side don't want to do the other."
At a May conference in New York, Scott praised Prendergast and Carmen Bianco, chief of MTA unit New York City Transit, for sending assistance to Boston for three weeks during the worst of the crisis.
"I'll tell you the honest to God's truth in terms of mutual aid, there were 1 and 2 o'clock in the mornings, I'm not kidding you, that it was like: 'If there's something, honey, some super-duper whatever, would you please tell us what it is, OK?'" she said. "But on top of that, they literally wound up sending a team and specialized equipment."
According to Scott, boundaries often divide transit disciplines, including people skills. She said infrastructure investment should include "intellectual infrastructure," the people behind transit systems.
"The doing of the deal is different from the other stuff," she said. "There's not a school for that. There's no inoculation for life and you are always in a continuous learning cycle."