DOT notes: Big rail projects and small bridges
Officials also making efforts to coordinate projects to minimize disruptions
SOUTH COAST RAIL project officials said phasing in the new line by running it through Middleboro not only gets the service operating years ahead of time, it gives the line a head start on the full build-out without adding to the projected $3.2 billion cost.
In a presentation Monday to a joint meeting of the Department of Transportation board and the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, James Eng, deputy rail administrator for MassDOT, said the clamor for rail service from Fall River and New Bedford showed there had to be a train to Boston sooner rather than later.
“We heard from the public that they want service now from Fall River and New Bedford and they want good service,” Eng told the combined boards.
Gov. Charlie Baker last week filed an amended environmental impact report to begin building the project in phases, with the first phase operating rail service from each of the two South Coast cities three times daily connecting to the Middleboro/Lakeville line at a cost of $935 million.
“We are using everything we own on our right of way,” he said. “We wouldn’t have to buy any more rail to accomplish this.”
Eng estimated the trip would take 91 to 93 minutes and, while still lengthy, would save about an hour a day for people who drive and get caught in traffic on Route 24 and the Southeast Expressway. He said officials were still working to reduce the travel time and should be able to pare it back by the time the service begins in 2022.
“If we can get it down to the high 80s, I think we’ve accomplished our goals,” Eng said.
Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack said the state still plans to complete the service through Stoughton but by doing it in phases, it not only accelerates the project, but saves money by doing construction at today’s prices rather than at inflated costs in the future.
Communication is key
If it seems like your commute is in a constant state of upheaval and detours, you’re right. And it won’t get any better in the next five years.
State transportation officials said between roadway, bridge, and MBTA construction, there are at least 1,100 transit and transportation projects in the pipeline, many in the metro Boston region. With T service interrupted, roads shutdown, and traffic clogging back streets, officials said there is a need for disparate agencies to communicate with one another to ensure seamless traffic flow and reduce commuting nightmares.
D’Amato said, for example, in the Quincy and Braintree area, there are at least 14 planned construction projects, including 10 MBTA projects and four by MassDOT. The T projects include the closure of the Wollaston Red Line stop, requiring busing, and the development of the North Quincy parking lot, which will eliminate hundreds of spaces. Coupled with Route 3, Burgin Parkway, and bridge work, lack of information would create a logistical nightmare.
In another example, D’Amato highlighted the Charlestown-North End areas of Boston where some 31 projects are on the board, including 19 MBTA projects, and 10 highway projects, including the resurfacing of the Tobin Bridge, as well as two city projects.
D’Amato said the plan is to gather the information and geo-code the data for presentation on a public-facing website. Officials would then coordinate resources and timetables to minimize disruptions as well as offer alternative routes and encouraging walking, biking, and alternative modes such as bus and ferry.
“The point of it is to get all that information and data into one place,” said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. “All of those things affect throughput.”
No bridge too small
State highway officials announced the latest round of funding for the Municipal Small Bridges program, one of the more popular grant programs in the Department of Transportation that provides funds for cities and towns to repair aging spans that don’t qualify for federal reimbursement.
There are hundreds of short bridges around the state that are necessary to cross rivers and culverts in communities but because they don’t meet federal minimum of 20 feet in length required for reimbursement, cities and towns struggle to find the money to repair them.
MassDOT set aside $50 million over the next five years in a pilot program for the repairs of small bridges and, in the latest round, Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver announced 12 communities received a total of $5.2 million, bringing the total so far to more than $21.2 million the state has awarded.Gulliver cited a bridge in Leicester that was a safety risk but the town lacked the money to repair it. Gulliver said the state expedited the application and awarded the full $500,000 needed to make the repairs.
“The program was started to address those types of projects, one that the community had no other way of addressing, that would have to have been closed and would have caused a serious disruption to the community,” he said.