Thursday, July 13, 2006

Report on Transportation Issues, including Charles Street in Boston

Marilyn Wellons reports:

I attended a meeting of the Regional Transportation Advisory Council (RTAC), a group that advises the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The MPO is responsible, among other things, for all transportation projects receiving federal transportation funds and all "regionally significant" transportation projects regardless of funding source. The Central Transportation Planning Staff (CTPS) serves as staff to the MPO and other organizations.

One member of the RTAC asked what the status of the Charles Street project is. Apparently this is a City of Boston and Mass Highways project that backs up Storrow Drive and the Longfellow Bridge at the Charles Street MBTA station, also under construction. There are problems of safety (ambulances can’t get through the crush to Mass General Hospital—the RTAC member said he lives two blocks away and would die of a heart attack before he could get to the hospital) and air pollution.

The project is already two years overdue and won’t be done for two more years.

The CTPS response was that the implementing agencies have bridges to work on (Mass Highways is the implementing agency for the Department of Conservation and Recreation's [DCR] highways and bridges that connect to the Charles Street circle) and the state is paying 50% of the Big Dig costs. Therefore things are slow. (I would think the fatal tunnel accident will also complicate transportation funds and planning.)

Talking with the RTAC member after the meeting, I mentioned the DCR’s Storrow tunnel, Longfellow and BU Bridges, and Mem Drive “Historic Parkways” Phase 2 projects as bearing on his question, and the RTAC member immediately added the Bowker overpass to the list. The Bowker overpass refers to Storrow Drive at the Fenway exit over Commonwealth Avenue and, according to previous statements by the DCR, like the Storrow tunnel is also in imminent danger of collapse. (See how close the Bowker is to the Storrow tunnel on the map at

I said DCR won’t say anything about the Mem Drive project (they won’t even say who knows anything about it), hasn't mentioned the Bowker even when discussing the tunnel, except when I asked, and has delayed releasing specifics about the Longfellow Bridge. And now of course the DCR has added the BU Bridge to its “all falling down” list.

I said all these projects are related, and that I bet they’re all in suspension til Harvard (the “600-pound gorilla” in the mix) reveals specifically what it wants for the Allston campus. Then all modifications to these "problem" structures and all priorities will fall into place, justified as the optimum and in the public interest.

On that score, we’re still waiting for public release of the Harvard-funded Executive Office of Transportation (EOT) study of transportation alternatives in Allston, which I understand is now circulating among the parties. These parties surely include not only Harvard and the EOT, but also the City of Boston, the Mass Pike Authority, the Port Authority, and CSX (the bigger of the two local railroads at the Beacon yards in Allston), and the DCR as well. There may be an executive summary of Phase 1—logistics and freight—issued at the end of the summer. The study’s Phase 2—infrastructure—may be done by late winter, although its due date is as late as June, 2007.

Marilyn Wellons


The RTAC member cited an editorial by the Beacon Hill Times about Cambridge Street. Mind you, it was written before the fatal accident in the Big Dig tunnel. Here it is:

Cambridge Street commentary by times staff

From Mayor Menino to State House denizens to all the folks who live in the West End and the north slope of Beacon Hill, the only thing being talked about is what appears to be an abandoned construction site on Cambridge Street.
The reasons do not seem to be complex. From what we can glean—and our reporting, we have to acknowledge, is imperfect since everyone we talk with dodges and weaves—the problem is one of priorities. The contractor and the sub-contractors have no sense of urgency, and the Massachusetts Highway Department either has no authority over them or chooses not to wield any.

Cambridge Street construction began in February, 2003. As everyone points out to one another, no work of any consequence has taken place between Charles Circle and Bowdoin Street since last fall.

John Lepore, whom we continue to defend as managing the best he can with the resources he has been given, remains optimistic about completion. He promised that he will provide a chart to The Beacon Hill Times tomorrow that will outline the work to be completed and when it will be done.

We will publish that chart next week on the front page. We will continue to follow this project—on the front page and even through the winter—until the last tree is planted and watered.

We continue to marvel: Mass Highway, which doesn’t have enough authority or competence to complete a half mile of roadway in three and a half years, is the agency Governor Romney wants to take over the turnpike authority, which runs the best roads in the state. If Governor Romney were in Massachusetts more often and driving down Cambridge Street, he might realize his folly.

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