Pollack launches Allston review with 3 options
Because of Charles R. incursions, 2 would seem DOA
TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY Stephanie Pollack has made it official: She’s launching an in-depth environmental review of three options for rebuilding the Massachusetts Turnpike and other transportation infrastructure between Boston University and the Charles River even though two of the options would seem to be dead on arrival.
State transportation officials have been struggling for five years to come up with a way to rebuild and straighten a crumbling section of the Turnpike on a narrow 204-foot space between BU and the Charles. The challenge with the throat, as the area has come to be called, has been how to rebuild the Pike, Soldiers Field Road, and rail tracks without snarling commutes and walling off BU and Commonwealth Avenue from the river.
At a meeting of the MBTA and state transportation boards in late June, Pollack introduced an option that would basically rebuild the existing infrastructure as is. That would mean the Turnpike would continue to be elevated above the train tracks running underneath – an approach that does not sit well with many transportation advocates who would like to see the area knitted together better. (CORRECTION: This paragraph was corrected to remove a phrase saying this Turnpike option is smaller than what is there now. It is smaller than an earlier version of the Turnpike rebuild but wider than what is there now.)
At the same meeting, Pollack introduced a letter from Katie Theoharides, the secretary of energy and environmental affairs, in which she said the environmental agencies under her control “would consider any intrusion into the [Charles River] excessive, especially if there are alternatives without any intrusion.”
Pollack released the scoping report for the project last Friday and said she was moving all three options for the throat forward for an environmental impact review. In a letter that same day to advocates concerned about her approach, she dismissed criticism of an elevated Turnpike.
“We have been at this process for over five years and, as you note, we have considered several variations including an at-grade project and a hybrid that places Soldiers Field Road on a viaduct,” she wrote. “While we are committed to taking all three options forward into the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, to assert that there are multiple hybrid and surface options that are reasonable and achievable ignores the tortuous history of this project. We spent over a year and significant resources to develop the Soldiers Field Road hybrid, which we believed achieved consensus support. Yet, when we filed the scoping report with that alternative, it was roundly criticized including, I believe, by many of the signatories to your statement. We heard those criticisms and have taken them to heart. As we move through the National Environmental Protection Act process, one of our guiding principles will be to avoid long-term or permanent impact to the Charles River; indeed, to avoid all impacts if possible.”
But her response has left many of the advocates confused. If a guiding principle is to avoid long-term, permanent, or any impacts to the Charles, why, they ask, is she forwarding two approaches that would violate that guiding principle?
In her letter to some of the advocates, Pollack also addressed concerns that public transit operations in the area need to be maintained and even upgraded during the lengthy construction period of 6 to 10 years.
Pollack said she wants to maintain two-track service on the Worcester commuter rail line during construction but acknowledged that may not be possible “during some phases of construction.”“We believe this single track operation can be limited in length, allowing for two-track service from points west through Boston Landing before converging to a single track,” she said. “Divergence back to double track to the east would be made at the Commonwealth Avenue overpass.”
She also would not commit to building a new MBTA station in the area early on during construction or launching new rail service via the Grand Junction rail line to Kendall Square and North Station. She said replacement of the Grand Junction bridge over the Charles and launching of service over the bridge would have to go through their own planning and funding processes.