Sunday, July 30, 2006

Report on Urban Ring Advisory Committee Meeting, 7/25/06

Marilyn Wellons reports:

I attended the most recent Urban Ring Citizens Advisory Committee meeting, July 25, 2006, at the State Transportation Building. Again, the Executive Office of Transportation officials at the meeting reviewed the time table for hiring consultants to revise the Draft Environmental Impact Review/Statement and finish the revision for filing by November, 2007. That's not very long from now for that kind of work.

Members of the CAC were very concerned that they would have only an advisory role in the hiring of the consultants. Again and again they came back to that problem. I believe the problems with the Big Dig were hanging heavy over the entire meeting.

I stated my own interest in keeping the Grand Junction rail bridge in operation
for freight, and passed on to the meeting the Rail Committee of the Regional Transportation Advisory Council concern about keeping the Grand Junction open for freight and passenger service (by which I assume the Rail Committee mean the MBTA's current use of it).

Interestingly, when Codd, the EOT project manager, asked for a show of hands for
how many people were interested in Phase 3 (rail), the City of Cambridge representative raised her hand. As with previous Cambridge positions, I take this to reflect Harvard's desire for its own version of an Urban Ring Phase 3, i.e., light rail crossing the Charles over the Grand Junction bridge, connecting a spur from the Allston campus to the rest of the ring. Harvard's Allston website shows this connection (mode is unclear)

No official plan to date has showed anything of the kind. MBTA documents (MIS,
DEIR/S) and consequently the Secretary's Certificate refer to river crossings
in Phase 3 by tunnel only--whether the rail is light (Green Line) or heavy (Red
or Orange). A year ago a Sierra Club officer floated the idea that light rail over
the Grand Junction bridge was Phase 3. I and others responded that it was not any
official version of Phase 3.

The idea's definitely out there, though, gaining strength, probably with the
EOT-Harvard consultants and with them, EOT.

In general, EOT Urban Ring officials Codd and Woelfel did their best to say the
CAC should stick to Phase 2 and not follow up except tangentially on the Secretary's
May 20, 2005 Certificate for the DEIR/S suggestion to consider rephasing segments
of the Urban Ring, specifically, to advance Phase 3 rail in the central segment.

When I asked Woelfel after the meeting if he meant to discourage a serious consideration of rephasing, he said he didn't care if the CAC recommended it. However, there are problems with timing: if the feds think rephasing changes the "goals and purposes" of the Urban Ring, the project will have to start all over again from the very beginning, whereas now it's been in line for all these years. I think the point is that no one should be so foolish as to be held reponsible for
bringing the whole thing to a halt like that.

So the momentum among the EOT staff is definitely for buses.

I don't know enough about the MPO bureaucratic process to know if the "goals and purposes" of the Urban Ring change by phase. As Woelfel stated them from memory to me, they sounded as though they would be identical for all 3, almost by definition--public transportation in the Urban Ring corridor. This would almost certainly be true for the segment from Assembly or Sullivan Squares to Longwood and Ruggles, i.e., the river crossing, since the MBTA Major Investment Study says Phases 2 (bus) and 3 (rail) are redundant, and that if Phase 3 is built, Phase 2 seervice goes away. (All other segments of the Ring are "additive," and remain.)