I-90 throat options keep coming
Some advocates favor cutting lanes on Turnpike, Soldiers Field Road
TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY Stephanie Pollack is trying to winnow down the number of options for how to replace the elevated Massachusetts Turnpike and other transportation infrastructure on the narrow strip of land between Boston University and the Charles River, but advocates keep pushing to expand the choices.
Emily Norton, a Newton city councilor and the executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association, is a good example. She welcomed a letter that was released last week from Katie Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, effectively ruling out two of the three choices Pollack had put forward because they involved incursions into the Charles River. But Norton isn’t happy with the lone remaining option, which basically rebuilds everything as is.
Instead, Norton is calling for scaling back the size of the Massachusetts Turnpike and Soldiers Field Road in the narrow stretch of land called the throat between BU and the Charles River – going from eight lanes to six on the Turnpike (three in each direction) and four lanes to two (one in each direction) on Soldiers Field Road.
Norton said lane reductions would allow all of the transportation elements to be constructed at ground level without any incursions into the Charles River. She said fewer lanes would also be in sync with the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by moving people out of cars and on to public transit. In a telephone interview, Norton said rebuilding the infrastructure as is, given the state’s climate goals, “seems like hypocrisy.”
Theoharides, in a letter to Pollack released at the meeting, said “my agencies would consider any intrusion into the river excessive, especially if there are alternatives without any intrusion.” That seemed to disqualify the first two options, which would require either a temporary incursion into the Charles River during construction or a permanent incursion for adding parkland and bike and pedestrian paths.
Theoharides’s letter was sweeping, dismissing “any intrusion” into the river, which goes beyond what Norton and many other advocates favor. Norton said she would be open to a bike or pedestrian path out in the Charles River and wants to see the banks of the river shored up. She would also like to see the water runoff from the roadways treated before it is released into the river, which could also lead to changes along the river’s shoreline.
At the meeting last week, Pollack indicated the state needs all of the Turnpike and Soldiers Field Road lanes. She said there are 150,000 average daily trips on the Turnpike and 75,000 on Soldiers Field Road, compared to just 18,000 on the commuter rail. All of the data is pre-COVID, and Pollack indicated the traffic numbers would be higher in 2030 and 2040 when the project is supposed to be completed.
But Norton said COVID has changed workplace habits, prompting more people to work from home more often. She questioned whether traffic will actually increase in the future and whether state transportation officials should even allow it to increase. She said the state should be using congestion pricing and other tactics to encourage a shift to public transit.
Norton said she is seeking foundation funding for a study to determine likely traffic scenarios, something that she says hasn’t been done by state transportation officials. “They haven’t shown us any evidence,” she said.As a Newton city councilor, Norton acknowledged her proposal for fewer lanes on the Turnpike and Soldiers Field Road might not sit well with many of her constituents who commute into Boston from the west, which is another reason why better traffic projections are needed.
“I am happy to sell this to my constituents, but you haven’t given me anything to sell,” she said.