Some transportation decisions put off until after election

It may be a coincidence, but delays seem to be piling up

It may be just a coincidence, but decisions on divisive transportation issues big and small seem to be getting put off until later this year – after the election.

The biggest decision revolves around the design and configuration of the Massachusetts Turnpike and associated transportation infrastructure in the Allston-Brighton area. A deteriorating elevated section of the Turnpike near Boston University needs to be replaced, and three options are under consideration. A decision also needs to be made about when to build West Station, the proposed commuter rail and bus facility that would serve the area and a new commercial and residential neighborhood being developed by Harvard University. Baker administration officials want to put off the construction of West Station until 2040 when Harvard’s massive project is more built out, but community leaders and transit advocates have been pressing for work to begin much earlier.

Despite calls from transit advocates for fast action on the Turnpike project and its various elements, Baker administration officials said in March that it would take about nine months to reach a decision.

What to do with the T’s Mattapan trolley service isn’t a hot button issue for most transit riders, but it is a tricky issue for the MBTA. The trolleys are 1940s-era museum pieces that should probably have been retired years ago, but many riders (and their political patrons) love them. Some riders also worry that doing away with the trolleys could lead to inferior service on the line running from Ashmont Station on the Red Line through Milton to Mattapan Square.

The original deadline for a study analyzing the T’s options was this past winter. In May, Jeffrey Gonneville, the T’s chief operating officer, said the study would be completed by early June or July. But then just last week the T announced the report needed more work and wouldn’t be done until the fourth quarter of this year.

And then there is the question of what to do with a ramp in the Seaport District that runs down into the Ted Williams Tunnel. The ramp is currently restricted to public safety and highway maintenance vehicles, but transit advocates say it should be opened up to Silver Line buses to speed their trips to Logan International Airport.

State officials cite a number of reasons for why the ramp doesn’t mix well with 60-foot Silver Line buses, including a very small turning radius and narrow configuration, a steep grade that decreases an average of 6 percent over 600 feet, and high retaining walls that restrict sight distance and visibility. The officials also say there is very little merge distance at the bottom of the ramp, making it difficult for a bus to blend in with tunnel traffic.

Ari Ofsevit of TransitMatters has tried to rebut each of these concerns, saying opening the ramp could cut bus travel times by 10 percent. He urged Gov. Charlie Baker, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, and T General Manager Luis Ramirez to “tear down this (completely imaginary) wall.”

State officials seem to be slow-walking a study/analysis of the ramp situation. They are also promising to engage on the issue with all stakeholders, meaning nothing is likely to happen soon.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

One of those stakeholders, Sen. Nick Collins of South Boston, filed an amendment to the Senate budget that would have opened the ramp up to Silver Line buses. But before the amendment could come up for a vote, it was withdrawn from consideration. Collins didn’t return numerous phone calls seeking comment.

It’s probably a coincidence, but Baker hosted a meeting with Collins, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, US Rep. Stephen Lynch, and Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty on April 20 to discuss possible solutions to congestion in the Seaport District.