DCR unwilling to ease I-90 Allston space crunch

Officials reject narrowing lanes on Soldiers Field Road

STATE TRANSPORTATION officials looking for some extra space to put all of the roadways and train tracks associated with the Allston I-90 project at ground level are facing resistance from the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

On a press call on Friday announcing a new master plan for improving Greater Boston parkways, DCR officials said they would not favor freeing up space by narrowing the width of the lanes on Soldiers Field Road.

State transportation officials are trying to squeeze the current elevated eight lanes of the Massachusetts Turnpike, four lanes of Soldiers Field Road, and four commuter rail tracks into a narrow stretch of ground called the throat between Boston University and the Charles River. With the current at-grade design, the transportation infrastructure ends up being too wide, with 4 feet of roadway slipping into the Charles River.

To find an extra four feet, advocates have called for eliminating lanes or narrowing shoulders on the Turnpike, taking a few extra feet of additional land from Boston University, and narrowing the width of lanes on Soldiers Field Road from 11 feet to 10 feet.

State transportation officials said last week they don’t want to give up Turnpike lanes and the availability of more BU land is uncertain. On Friday, DCR officials said that they don’t want to make the lanes on Soldiers Field Road narrower, even though the agency’s own guidelines suggest narrower is better on most scenic parkways “to slow traffic and increase safety, reclaim green space, and restore the historic travelway and landscape.”

According to the DCR’s Historic Parkway Preservation Treatment Guidelines, which were published in 2007, parkway lanes can be between 9 and 11 feet wide, but parkways that permit general traffic, including trucks, should have lanes between 10 and 11 feet wide. Truck traffic is not allowed on Soldiers Field Road.

At Friday’s press conference, DCR Commissioner Jim Montgomery indicated Soldiers Field Road gets so much traffic that it makes sense to keep the lanes wider. An aide said: “Given the level of traffic, 11 feet is what we need out there. It’s a road that has hundreds of thousands of cars every day.”

At 11 feet, the lane widths on Soldiers Field Road would be the same as proposed for the Turnpike, even though the Turnpike carries truck traffic and more vehicles at greater speed.

The master plan unveiled by DCR on Friday does not broadly address the width of lanes on Soldiers Field Road, but it identifies “wide lanes” as an issue for a section of the roadway west of the throat near Harvard University, stretching from Eliot Bridge to Western Avenue. It recommends restriping the stretch with narrower lanes between 10.5 and 11 feet wide.

The master plan seeks to create a more accessible and interconnected network of roads and paths for walking and biking. The plan will guide maintenance and reconstruction initiatives such as correcting conditions not compliant with the American Disability Act, repaving roads and sidewalks, and redesigning and reconstructing parkways to enhance walking and biking accessibility.

The document includes a comprehensive “parkways inventory” to guide the use of annual funds for short-term repairs and improvements such as restoring or adding curb ramps and bike lanes, adding guardrails, and repairing crossing signals.

Meet the Author

Lily Robinson

Summer intern, CommonWealth
Meet the Author

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.

The plan begins with a safety assessment that identifies where and how crashes occur, maps “crash hotspots,” and charts injury and fatality trends between 2004 and 2014. Later chapters provide tools for measuring and improving safety, comfort, and connectivity; present strategies and policy recommendations for existing maintenance projects; and outline recommendations for future initiatives.

A DCR representative said that the master plan has already been guiding the department’s work on Boston’s parkway network. She reported that, in the past year, the department resurfaced 40 miles of parkways, installed 10 miles of on-road bike lanes, repaired about 3 miles of sidewalks, and replaced over 200 non-compliant curb ramps. Design principles from the plan have been guiding reconstruction of the Boston Arborway and Memorial Drive and will be used in reconstructing Charles River Road in Watertown when that project begins.

Montgomery said the plan guides the allocation of annual capital improvement funds, but makes no request for additional investment. The plan will cost $200 million over 20 years, he said.