Gulliver’s challenges, rising traffic and I-90 Allston

State Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver is facing two major challenges: traffic levels that are rising rapidly and an Allston I-90 project that is currently 4 feet too wide to fit at ground level into the narrow throat section between Boston University and the Charles River.

On the Allston project, Gulliver is trying to squeeze eight lanes of the Massachusetts Turnpike, four lanes of Soldiers Field Road, and four rail tracks into the narrow space. While transportation advocates say the solution is narrowing some lane widths and shoulders to accommodate all the infrastructure, Gulliver said the agencies with a stake in the project are all saying they can’t give up any of their space.

“The challenge there is we need to figure out where we get that four feet from,” Gulliver said on The Codcast. “We have some very difficult parameters. We feel that on the Turnpike side we’re at the limits that we can possibly shift.  I know DCR [the Department of Conservation and Recreation] feels strongly about their lane configuration on Soldiers Field Road. And the MBTA and Keolis feel the same way about the commuter rail lines.”

The answer may be paring back the space for all three, Gulliver said. “There’s some space to get, possibly by tweaking things around the edges a little bit on each one of those,” he said. “It’s just so small that we should be able to figure it out, but it really is, we’re down to that level, every inch counts.”

Gulliver has set a new tone for the project. Former transportation secretary Stephanie Pollack continuously raised issues why the at-grade approach couldn’t work. Gulliver is raising the same issues, while pledging to crowd-source solutions with stakeholders. He feels a decision about a preferred design approach will be made by the secretary of transportation at the end of the year and insists the $75 million allocated to repair the existing elevated section of the Turnpike in the throat is a signal the larger Allston I-90 project is moving forward and not being put on hold.  

Indeed, the highway administrator said the state is well positioned to snare federal infrastructure funds for the I-90 Allston project if they become available. Gulliver said the $75 million repair job is a signal to the federal government that Massachusetts is serious about moving forward with the larger project, which involves straightening the Turnpike, building a new T station, and laying the groundwork for a new neighborhood in the area.  

“If money becomes available and we have to hustle to get something out the door and get this shovel ready so to speak, I’m confident we can do it fairly quickly if there’s some sort of timeline associated with it,” he said.

Regarding traffic, Gulliver says, the data points his agency is gathering confirm what everyone is experiencing on the roadways.

“We are seeing that traffic has definitely increased,” he said. “This past week, in fact, we saw numbers that were pretty much back to 2019 levels.” 

But Gulliver said traffic is different now than it was pre-pandemic. The morning and evening peaks still exist, but they are much shorter in duration and traffic is spread out more over the course of the day. He said new traffic patterns have emerged – the Southeast Expressway has bounced back strongly while Turnpike traffic has yet to fully rebound. Overall, traffic on local roads has bounced back more than on major thoroughfares. 

A recent poll indicated residents of Greater Boston are worried pre-pandemic congestion is coming back, and possibly coming back worse. Gulliver said he hopes that doesn’t happen, but much will depend on how remote work evolves. He said right now people are eager to get back into the office and see their coworkers, but he says remote work in some form is here to stay.

“There’s going to be a lot of learning experience over the next year until we settle into a pattern,” he said. “Given the state of the economy, which is looking like it’s going to be red hot over the next year, … I think we’re in for a bit of a ride.”

BRUCE MOHL

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Mikayla Miller: Nearly two months after the Hopkinton teen’s death, questions are still being raised about the cause.The medical examiner has ruled that Miller’s death was a suicide, but her mother and supporters are asking whether the 16-year-old black teen, who identified as a member of the LGBTQ community, may have been “lynched.” Michael Jonas reports on all the twists and turns in the investigation, which is shaping up as a major test of law enforcement credibility. Read more.

In search of 4 feet: The Department of Conservation and Recreation says it needs lanes that are 11 feet wide on Soldiers Field Road to safely deal with all the traffic. State transportation officials are trying to find an extra four feet of space for the infrastructure in the narrow throat section of the Allston I-90 project, and advocates point out that DCR’s own guidelines suggest road widths of 10 or 10.5 feet for parkways like Soldiers Field Road. Read more.

OPINION

Guaranteed income: Jill Shah, the president of the Shah Family Foundation, said direct cash payments to people living on the financial edge improve all sorts of life outcomes. Read more.

Mass General Brigham expansion: Sean Rose of Thrive Support & Advocacy says the proposed expansion of Mass General Brigham at outpatient centers in Westborough, Woburn, and Westwood threatens the delivery of community care in the area. Read more.

Inland Route: Ben Hood and Anne Miller propose reviving the so-called Inland Route to New York City using rail service linking Worcester, Springfield, Hartford, New Haven, and New York City. Read more.

Addressing racism: Tricia Thomas, a registered nurse in Massachusetts, says racism is a public health crisis and must be addressed in that way. Read more.

Telemedicine: Stephanie Titus, a primary care physician affiliated with Mass General Brigham, says the lifting of pandemic restrictions is making it difficult and sometimes impossible to use telehealth to treat out-of-state patients. Read more.

Long Island Bridge: Rep. Bruce Ayers of Quincy says replacing the Long Island Bridge isn’t the only way to provide addiction services. He says ferry service to the island is a possibility, as is providing more service on the mainland. Read more.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Statehouses nationwide are beginning to reopen – but not in Massachusetts, where the building remains closed to the public and lawmakers are continuing to meet remotely. (Eagle-Tribune)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Local public health boards, who were on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, seek more money from the state. (Salem News)

Massachusetts launches the Vax Express, a mobile vaccine train that will make stops in several major cities, including Worcester, Lawrence, and Boston. (Eagle-Tribune)

Baystate Medical Center employees participated in a pivotal study of the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. (MassLive)

Gillette Stadium, the first mass vaccination site to open in Massachusetts, shuts down Monday. (MassLive)

ELECTIONS

Harvard professor Danielle Allen will officially enter the Democratic race for governor with a kickoff announcement on Tuesday. (Boston Globe) Check out this April episode of The Codcast to hear Allen discuss her migration from National Review intern in college to progressive champion today — and why the acclaimed scholar of Athenian democracy regards a boxing coach named Heavy, with lots of tattoos and no teeth, as one of the best teachers she’s had. 

Governor’s Councilor Eileen Duff pulls out of the state auditor’s race, citing a family health situation. (State House News Service)

The right-leaning Boston Herald editorial page says it’s time for Massachusetts Republican Party chairman Jim Lyons to go. 

The state Republican Party has asked state campaign finance regulators whether it can use its funds to pay the legal expenses of a Republican candidate facing enforcement action by the campaign finance agency. (Boston Globe

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Hyundai becomes the latest car manufacturer to shut down a car plant because of an international shortage of the chips used in vehicles. (NPR)

EDUCATION

A report finds that the Duxbury High School football team has used offensive, anti-Semitic play calls since 2010 – with the knowledge of its coaches. (Patriot Ledger)

Several South Shore districts are flagged for disproportionately putting Black students in special education classes. (Patriot Ledger)

A Mount Holyoke professor lands a key role in NASA’s exploration of Venus. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A judge rules that the Worcester Police Department broke the law by withholding investigatory records from the Telegram & Gazette. (Telegram & Gazette)

Legal experts weigh in after a federal judge rejected a plea deal that would avoid prison time for Gen Andrade, the former chief of staff for former Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia. (Herald News

Former Boston police commissioner Ed Davis said Acting Mayor Kim Janey did the right thing in firing Dennis White as police commissioner. (Boston Herald

MEDIA

A five-person team at the Boston Globe won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for coverage of the state government failures that allow dangerous drivers to remain on the road. 

PASSINGS

Rudolph Kass, a retired Massachusetts Appeals Court judge known for his writing flair that brought humor and clever phrasing to dry legal principles, died at age 90. (Boston Globe