New temporary elevated highway may be needed with I-90 Allston project

The I-90 Allston interchange has always been a challenge to design, particularly squeezing the Massachusetts Turnpike, Soldiers Field Road, and four railroad tracks at ground level into in the narrow area called the throat between Boston University and the Charles River. 

But as the state seeks federal funding for the nearly $2 billion project, the staging plan for construction is starting to come together – and may be an even bigger challenge. 

Jonathan Gulliver, the state’s highway administrator, says the elevated section of the Turnpike that runs through the throat area was built in such a way that it can’t just be torn down and rebuilt at ground level. Since the idea is to keep traffic flowing while the new highway is built at ground level, the rebuild has to be done in what amounts to a series of chess moves. 

First off, the elevated section of the existing Turnpike needs to be shored up so it will last through the seven years of construction.  The state currently spends $1 million a year to keep the crumbling elevated highway upright, but now a “major rehabilitation” is planned. The price tag for the rehabilitation had been $75 million, but the cost rose to $90 million in the state’s application for federal funding.

The biggest surprise in the funding application is that the state is also planning to build a new, temporary elevated roadway capable of carrying half the Turnpike traffic while the old, rehabilitated elevated Turnpike is torn down in stages.

You read that right. The state does a major rehabilitation of the existing elevated Turnpike and then builds a new elevated roadway to carry traffic while the old rehabbed Turnpike is torn down in stages and rebuilt at ground level. The new temporary roadway would be a lot like a temporary bridge, used for awhile and then discarded.

“This is a one of the things we’re trying to eliminate,” Gulliver said. “The last thing you want to do is add more infrastructure, even on a temporary basis. It’s costly and it’s time consuming.” 

Gulliver said the construction approach is necessary to keep traffic moving during construction and make enough room in the throat to build out the project. But he’s hopeful the engineers can find a way to dispense with the temporary elevated highway, which is referred to as a viaduct.

“There are a lot of needs that force us to look at the project this way. This particular phase, with the temporary viaduct, our hope and our goal is to eliminate the need for it all together,” he said. “My gut tells me there is a way to do that.”

BRUCE MOHL 

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

A lack of transparency: At the first of several oversight hearings on MBTA safety practices, the focus centered on an attempt by transit authority officials to withhold information from reporters about derailments of three construction vehicles during Blue Line track repairs. 

– ​​“They confirmed our worst fears,” said Sen. Brendan Crighton, the co-chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, who initiated the questioning about the Blue Line construction derailments. “Transparency is not their priority, press strategy is.” Read more.

Is the MBTA even needed? Rep. William Straus of Mattapoisett questions whether the MBTA is still needed. Just as the Turnpike Authority was rolled into the Massachusetts Department of Transportation more than a decade ago, Straus questions whether the T would work better as part of the state transportation system rather than an independent agency trying to juggle capital projects and day-to-day operations.

– MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak says the T will need $300 million to deal with a set of safety directives issued by the Federal Transit Administration and “significant” additional funds  to deal with issues expected to be raised in the agency’s final report on T safety practices in August.

– Poftak said the T hopes to hire 2,000 new employees this fiscal year. The MBTA currently employs 6,400 workers, although a significant number leave each year. Read more.

Setting policy via budget: The state budget, passed by the House and Senate on Monday, is a lot more than just a spending plan. It contains 197 outside sections setting state policy on everything from child marriage to prison commissary prices. Read more.

Quicker tax relief: The Senate’s economic development bill provides pretty much the same tax relief as the House version but it does it a year sooner. Read more.

OPINION

Starting point, not end point: Jim Stergios of the Pioneer Institute says the recent agreement between the city of Boston and the state over the city’s schools needs to be a starting point for reforms. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung says Beacon Hill is split on some aspects of abortion legislation because to many of the lawmakers the issue is person. 

Sen. Mark Montigny inserted an amendment into the state budget directing the state to buy a store in New Bedford for $1 and use the space for the College of Visual and Performing Arts. (New Bedford Light)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Two churches in Pittsfield are poised to use space on their property to help the city address its housing gap using federal ARPA funds. (Berkshire Eagle)

A city firefighter in Easthampton is charged with putting recording devices in the women’s locker room. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Worcester is the latest city to consider regulating crisis pregnancy centers. (MassLive)

Some advocates are pushing for a bill that would make it easier to obtain abortion medication on college campuses. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

MIT researchers say a mysterious radio signal has been detected from a far-away galaxy. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The median price for a single-family home in Massachusetts hit $610,000 in June, up 9.9 percent from a year ago, according to the Warren Group. (Boston Herald)

EDUCATION

The Plymouth school committee will reconsider school dress codes after female students complain that the dress code is sexist and results in girls getting penalized more often than boys. (Patriot Ledger)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Britain records its highest temperature ever. (New York Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A state employee is accused of violating state ethics rules by working two state jobs simultaneously. (MassLive)

Police unions sue the city of Boston over rules meant to limit the use of pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

The Pulitzer Prize Board, after authorizing two independent reviews, rejects assertions by former president Donald Trump that prize-winning stories produced by the New York Times and Washington Post on Russian interference in US elections were inaccurate.

Faced with a court order, the Everett Leader Herald says it will give up the names of confidential sources to Mayor Carlo DeMaria, who is suing the paper for libel. (Universal Hub)

PASSINGS

Gary Vecchio, a teacher and the head of the Shrewsbury Street Neighborhood Association who was well-known for his activism on Worcester city policy, dies at 68. (Telegram & Gazette)