Gulliver’s challenges, rising traffic and I-90 Allston
Congestion increasing; in search of 4 feet in ‘the throat’
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.”
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.