Getting to yes on the throat

The push is on – again – for a unifying plan to reconstruct all of the transportation infrastructure packed into a narrow stretch of land between Boston University and the Charles River.

That stretch of land, dubbed the throat because it is a choke point, is the most challenging part of an estimated $1 billion project to straighten the Massachusetts Turnpike in the area, build a new T station, and kick off the development of a neighborhood waiting to be created by Harvard University in Allston.

The problem is space; there’s just not enough of it in that narrow stretch of land. And getting everyone to agree on how to squeeze in eight lanes of the Turnpike, four lanes of Soldiers Field Road, four train tracks, and bike and pedestrian paths without any of the elements spilling into the Charles River has been an exercise in frustration.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack recently decided to launch full-scale environmental reviews of three options – rebuilding the infrastructure pretty much as is, with the elevated Turnpike bigger than it is now; putting the Turnpike at ground level and elevating Soldiers Field Road; and putting all of the transportation elements at ground level.

Pollack warned that if agreement can’t be reached on one of the alternatives, she would consider abandoning the entire project and just rehabilitating the existing elevated Turnpike, which is crumbling and nearing its end date.  “We simply cannot allow the current state of the viaduct to continue as is without an end in sight,” Pollack said.

On Sunday, the Boston Globe ran a full-page editorial urging all parties to come together in a kumbaya moment. The editorial only half-jokingly urged them “to see a counselor or step back and look at the bigger picture.”

Rick Dimino, president and CEO of the business group A Better City, issued a statement on Monday welcoming the sentiment of the Globe editorial while insisting his organization would remain tenacious in pursuing an approach that does away with elevated roadways walling off the Charles River from the surrounding area. He wants all of the transportation elements at ground level, and believes he has a plan to do it without damaging the Charles River. His statement suggested Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is in his corner.

Emily Norton, a Newton city councilor and executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association, likes the idea of putting everything at ground level, but she doesn’t want any incursions into the Charles River. She says the best way to avoid that is to do away with some of the lanes on the Turnpike and Soldiers Field Road, which she believes can be done in the wake of the COVID-induced work-from-home phenomenon. Asked on Monday if her position has changed, she replied: “Nope.”

Pollack likes to portray herself as the grown-up in the room, the official trying to reach consensus among advocates who can never seem to get on the same page. But the truth is she keeps shooting herself in the foot.

When there was growing consensus on building an elevated Soldiers Field Road, she pulled the rug out from under the proposal by saying, belatedly, the only way to do that would be by putting a temporary Soldiers Field Road in the Charles River for most of a decade. The state’s project manager said advocates were on board with putting a road in the Charles when they weren’t.

More recently, Pollack enlisted Katie Theoharides, the secretary of energy and environmental affairs, to opine on incursions into the Charles River even before agencies under her control had been given any fleshed-out proposals. “My agencies would consider any intrusion into the river excessive, especially if there are alternatives without any intrusion,” said Theoharides, whose comment outraged Dimino.

Even though Theoharides’s statement would appear to knock out two of Pollack’s three options for the throat, the transportation secretary is pushing ahead, exploring whether what has been said can be walked back.

BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

US Rep. Richard Neal and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse square off in a spirited debate where the two candidates have major differences. Morse also condemned what he called a “backroom coordinated political smear” against him.

Casino revenues, amid COVID-19 constraints, are pretty strong, particularly at Encore.

Federal funds sought for Holyoke Soldiers’ Home renovations.

Nearly half of Massachusetts businesses got loans through the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

Opinion: Boston University is more interested in money than its students, say two of those students — Sofie Isenberg and Devyani Chhetri.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB             

 

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Mass General Brigham extends its work-from-order order through next June for nearly 20,000 employees. (Boston Globe)

Steward Health Care says Morton Hospital in Taunton will house a regional substance abuse center. (Taunton Gazette)

ELECTIONS

Democrats kicked-off their national convention with blistering denunciations of President Trump from Democrats — and several well-known Republicans — in an evening capped by Michelle Obama’s speech that attacked the president’s character. (Washington Post)

States are scrambling to revamp voting plans, looking to ballot drop boxes, expanded in-person voting, and other alternatives to mail-in ballots in the face of Trump administration moves to slash costs at the Postal Service. (New York Times) City and town clerks are facing a major time crunch as ballot applications come pouring in. (Gloucester Daily Times) Postal workers say at least a dozen mail sorting machines have already been removed from Massachusetts. (WGBH)

Dozens of Democratic State Committee members are calling for an expedited — and independent — probe of the party’s role in pushing misconduct allegations against congressional challenger Alex Morse. (Boston Globe) The Intercept reports that state party executive director Veronica Martinez told student leaders of College Democrats to delete records of their communications with party officials.

The Globe looks at the college fraternity Joe Kennedy belonged to — and quit last year — that regards Robert E. Lee as its “spiritual founder.”

Kennedy slammed Sen. Ed Markey for attacks on his family as a new poll shows their Democratic primary race neck-and-neck. (Boston Globe) Black Republican Rayla Campbell, who is waging a write-in campaign against Rep. Ayanna Pressley, showed up at Kennedy’s briefing to ask why he hasn’t spoken out against supporter Monica Cannon-Grant’s video diatribe against Campbell’s interracial marriage that also made crude sexual references to her husband. (Boston Herald)

Republican Steven Xiarhos of Barnstable releases his tax returns and calls on his state rep primary opponent, Thomas Keyes of Sandwich, to do the same. (Cape Cod Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Plans for Marshfield’s first medical marijuana dispensary are moving forward, though critics are raising concerns about traffic. (Patriot Ledger)

EDUCATION

The Braintree School Committee, on a narrow 4-3 vote, approved plans to restart classes under a hybrid model in which students attend in-person classes two mornings per week and receive remote instruction for the balance of their studies. (Patriot Ledger)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

US Rep. Joe Kennedy and US Sen Ed Markey spar over the details of a pipeline safety bill that Markey worked on. (The Salem News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Only three of the state’s district attorneys maintain lists of police officers who have engaged in or been accused of misconduct that a DA might have to disclose to defense attorneys if the officer testifies in court. (WBUR)

As the Worcester police consider whether to implement a body camera program, residents are mixed on the idea. (Telegram & Gazette)

MEDIA

The Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill runs a headline about a breakout of COVID-19 cases that declares: “UNC has a clusterfuck on its hands.”