Sunday, June 30, 2019

Charles River: MassDOT stands up to the bad guys again. Cambridge Commuter Rail deservedly hurt.

Charles River: MassDOT stands up to the bad guys again.  Cambridge Commuter Rail deservedly hurt.

1. General.
2. The latest meeting.  MassDOT’s project.
3. The latest published plan possibly modified.
4. The reality of the bizarre passenger proposal.
A, Passenger Service on the Grand Junction Railroad.
B. A private and highly hated exit from I90 for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
C. Summary.
5. West Station under the latest MassDOT proposal.
6. A responsible alternative.  A rapid transit connection between BU Bridge / Commonwealth Avenue and Harvard Square.

1. General.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has a problem.

They have an Interstate highway (I90) on the Boston side of the Charles River from Magazine Beach which they think needs to be rebuilt.  At the same time, a change in toll taking technology has rendered the existing exit outmoded.  The changes have created the major possibility of straightening out and thus speeding up the Interstate plus getting rid of a large amount of asphalt.

That work should not be unusually difficult.  However, Harvard University has purchased the underlying land and Harvard University wants a private stop added to the passenger railroad line running through the area.

The situation is further complicated by the usual games from activists in Cambridge.  They want major changes in a railroad track going through the eastern part of Cambridge.  They want to add passenger service in a manner which would mess up traffic on five already overloaded Cambridge local streets.

They thus want to use technology which has been outmoded for more the better part of a Century.  Their “improvement” would create passenger train service running across those city streets and creating the sort of mess which railroaders have avoided and have been undoing for the last Century.

These scornful statements about railroading coming from me are coming from a person with two years railroading experience at a low labor management level including six months actual on the ground experience.

Neither of these goals really has much to do with the needed rebuilding of the Interstate.  But, in the background is a plan for a private off ramp from the Interstate to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  The private off ramp is strikingly close to being a destructive highway route which was defeated forty years ago by Cambridge activists.  This private exit is an update of what was then called the “Inner Belt.”.

The lovely plans would devastate the last remaining animal habitat in this part of the Charles River, including the one remaining undestroyed part of the formerly mile long habitat of the 38 year resident Charles River White Geese.

2. The latest meeting.  MassDOT’s project.

On June 20, 2019, I attended the Advisory Group meeting on the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s rebuilding of I90 (Massachusetts Turnpike) on the Boston side of the Charles River.

Here is an official photo of I90 showing Magazine Beach on the Cambridge Side, to the right.  This is one area in which the Cambridge City Council and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation are in the process of massively destroying trees and animal habitat while the Cambridge City Council spouts non stop lies of environment sainthood.

Pretty much all of the highway running from the bottom up to the left is being torn down and rebuilt.  The highway next to it, Soldiers Field Road, is a state limited access boulevard which is being rebuilt as part of the I90 work.

To more efficiently use the area, I90 is being rebuilt at ground level with Soldiers Field Road and various train tracks above it.

3. The latest published plan possibly modified.

The latest thinking of MassDOT presented at the June 20, 2019 meeting was not passed out in hard copy and does not seem to be available on line yet.

Here is the version passed out in April cropped to the area most directly impacting the Charles River.

The area shown in the above photograph is the straight area running diagonally from the lower right between the bends in the highway.

4. The reality of the bizarre passenger proposal.

A, Passenger Service on the Grand Junction Railroad.

The passenger service which the bad guys are trying to sneak in after strongly losing in public discussions would follow the route of the Grand Junction railroad.  Here is a MassDOT map of the Grand Junction marked up by me to show the major streets which would be devastated by the Commuter Rail suddenly crossing those highways at grade..

Such addition of grade crossings on major city streets is more than a Century out of date.  A lot of money has been spent replacing grade crossing with overpasses and underpasses.

The connections to the I90 construction area are in the bottom left of this plan and the bottom right of the project plan.

B. A private and highly hated exit from I90 for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Here is that area of the April 19 map of the project plan, blown up.

The Grand Junction Railroad connection to the I90 area is shown in the lower left of the Grand Junction map.   That connection is shown on the bottom right of the I90 plan.

One biggest part the bad guys are trying to sneak in is a rebuild of this railroad as it crosses the Charles River.  THIS WORK IS NEVER PUBLICLY MENTIONED.  THE WORK IS A POLITICAL PARIAH IN CAMBRIDGE.  People are proud of beating the Inner Belt 40 years ago along pretty much the same route.

Rebuilding that bridge is key to building the updated “Inner Belt.”

The updated Inner Belt / personal exit to MIT was first proposed by the area transit agency (the Massachusetts  Bay Transit Authority) in 2003 as part of a study with a nonsensical explanation.

The study proved that an updated Inner Belt could be built OVER THIS BRIDGE if the bridge were rebuilt.  It would connect to the bridge from I90 through ramps going eastbound (right) from the east bound ramps of I90, bottom right, looping up and connecting to the rebuilt bridge.  Connection would be made for traffic to I90 west in a fairly straight forward manner.  Given the space available, access to and from the West is the only possibility.

C. Summary.

At the June 20, 2019 meeting, the bad guys reenforced their fight for rebuilding of this bridge to the MassDOT presenter.  MassDOT has repeatedly fought to keep the I90 project restricted to work in Boston, the south / Boston side of the Charles River.  The Charles River is the dark gray area showing in these maps. 

The rebuttal of the speaker to a bad guy this time was the strongest, clearest communication of the situation I have seen.  What the bad guys try to sneak through as minor was described as a highly expensive project which would require separate approval.


End of that dirty trick, under whatever euphemism used.

5. West Station under the latest MassDOT proposal.

The key part of the discussion involves “West Station,” another major change politically sneaked through as a necessary beauty, “no big thing.”

The relevant part of the reduced map crop in section 3 shows about a third of the way up on the right.

Here is the west station portion of the April 2019 plan.

Never mentioned in the fight for this PERSONAL station for Harvard on the east-west railroad is the close proximity of the rather new Boston Landing station.  Boston Landing is NOT THAT FAR OFF THE PLANS TO THE LEFT / West.

The Brown / Reddish structure in the middle of these plans in West Station.

The top two tracks connect to the Grand Junction and also to rail storage as part of the South Station Commuter Rail system.  Note how they narrow to one track in either direction.

The bottom two tracks would be above and below a platform in the middle of the east-west main line.

The change proposed on June 20 would run the last two tracks, without the platform, along the bottom of the construction area to allow maximum speed for through trains.  That would comply with the needs of suburban commuters and Western Massachusetts traffic.

A fifth track and platform would be added between these two tracks and the two tracks showing above them in the April plans.  This siding would allow passenger service to West Station.  The fifth track creates a terminal for shuttle service from Boston Landing Station, half a mile or so to the left of the area on the main map.

This change is major.  It makes excellent sense if you are running a railroad.  The service to and from the west needs to be as fast as possible to satisfy the needs of long distance rail transportation.

The change also reflects the reality of the situation.

MassDOT has been forced to provide a private station for Harvard.  But that station makes no operational sense as a major part of a railroad.  The Boston Landing station is so close that a second station in the area is silly.

The ridership projections are so low that, actually, neither station makes any operational sense, singly or combined.  But the politics are such that the project will include West Station, no matter how stupid.

West Station’s supposed greatness is its access to that new route through Cambridge.  But, they will have to get the money AND PUBLIC SUPPORT.  That route will not come for about a decade after the rest of the project, and the route is nonsensical.

MassDOT has PUBLICLY studied the route glorified by the bad guys.  MassDOT found that the route makes no sense for anybody outside of Cambridge / MIT’s Kendall Square development area, and (see below) a new rapid transit line could be more functional without being destructive like the nonsensical Ground Junction commuter rail.  Plus, of course, the Century out of date road crossings would make already bad traffic in Cambridge that much worse.  Very significantly the environmental outrages in the animal habitat on the Charles River are inexcusable.

6. A responsible alternative.  A rapid transit connection between BU Bridge / Commonwealth Avenue and Harvard Square.

This would provide the MEANINGFUL rapid transit connection which has been PROMISED and that is greatly needed by the North Allston neighborhood which abuts the project.  This is an area I have lived in (close to the proposed Franklin Street station), and I strongly agree with the frustrations of the current residents.

Green Line A would greatly reduce traffic on the overloaded Red Line rapid transit between Park Street and Harvard Station by being more convenient for people in Back Bay who need to get to Harvard Station and beyond.

Thus it would provide MIT and company improved service at Kendall / MIT on that portion of the Red Line in place of the commuter rail service their group is trying to sneak into the I90 rebuild out of the public view.

The rerouting of the I90 / Mass Pike rebuild so that I90 is on the ground with Soldiers Field Road above it could greatly facilitate Green Line A.  The configuration would allow putting Green Line A above the Mass. Pike between the BU Bridge and he future Harvard construction.

Common sense for the greater good.