State spending $800,000/year shoring up Pike

State spending $800,000/year shoring up Pike

Pollack: Roadway is structurally deficient but safe

STATE TRANSPORTATION OFFICIALS said on Monday they are spending $800,000 a year to shore up a structurally deficient elevated portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike in Boston used by 145,000 motorists every day. The officials are eager to speed up the process of replacing the roadway before vehicle weight restrictions are necessary, but said they first have to sort out a $1 billion debate about how to redevelop the area around the former Allston-Brighton tolls.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said repeatedly that the elevated roadway, built in 1964, is structurally deficient but not unsafe. She said there is “cause for urgency,” but noted that the roadway is inspected frequently – at six-month intervals rather than the standard two-year intervals used on most state roads.

The elevated portion of the Turnpike runs between the campus of Boston University and Soldiers Field Road before descending to where the Allston-Brighton tolls used to be located. Commuter rail tracks for the Worcester Line run underneath the roadway, which is held up by cement supports that are full of cracks and crumbling in many places. Many of the support beams are badly rusted.

There has been talk about replacing the elevated roadway for close to 20 years. Those talks have gained some urgency as the roadway has deteriorated, but they have also been subsumed in a much broader discussion among a large group of stakeholders about the future of the area. Harvard University has acquired most of the property in the area and is looking to build a new, tech-oriented neighborhood called Allston Landing there. Many see the situation as an opportunity to knit together Allston while at the same time replacing the elevated roadway, straightening the Turnpike, building a new commuter rail/bus station, creating a layover spot for commuter rail trains, adding bike tracks, and opening more parkland along the Charles River.

It’s an ambitious agenda, and Pollack is seeking to move the meandering discussions along by reminding the various stakeholders that the elevated section of the Turnpike needs to be addressed. She plans to file a draft environmental impact report on the project by the end of this month and wants construction to start by 2020 and be completed by 2024 or 2025. She warned that roadway restrictions might be necessary if that schedule is not met.

Pollack said four approaches to reconstructing the elevated roadway are currently being considered. The simplest proposal would replace the existing roadway and add a layover spot for commuter rail trains at an estimated cost, including hefty allowances for inflation and contingencies, of $426 million.

Three more ambitious proposals all include a layover spot for commuter rail trains and a new commuter rail/bus station dubbed West Station. Each of them takes a different approach to the elevated section of the Turnpike.

One proposal, developed by state officials, would rebuild the elevated roadway with the four commuter rail tracks underneath and add more open space for biking and parkland along the Charles River. The estimated cost is $1 billion.

A second proposal, developed by MIT graduate student Ari Ofsevit, would put the Turnpike at ground level along with two commuter rail tracks while elevating the other two commuter rail tracks above the Pike. The cost estimate for that design is $1.2 billion.

A third proposal, developed by the business group A Better City, would put everything – the four commuter rail tracks and the Turnpike along with Soldier’s Field Road – at ground level. The cost of that design is estimated at $983 million.

Pollack told the Department of Transportation board and the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board that the state currently has no plan in place for financing what she calls the I-90 Allston Interchange. In addition to limited toll revenue, she said she may seek federal funds or additional state money. She said she will also be exploring public-private partnerships and third-party contributions.

After her presentation, several members of the two boards said Harvard should be required to put up a large chunk of the funds. Brian Lang, a member of the control board, described Harvard as a “financial institution” that stands to benefit greatly from the project.

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.

“As a starting point, that’s where we should go,” said Lang, president of Unite Here Local 26, who led dining hall workers in a strike at Harvard last year.

Pollack succeeded in spurring discussion on the I-90 Allston Interchange, but it quickly became apparent that reaching consensus on how to proceed would not be easy. Several board members and some neighborhood activists urged state transportation officials to grant 60 days rather than 30 days to review the draft environmental report. Questions also were raised about whether a commuter rail/bus station was needed so close to the Boston Landing and Yawkey Way stations.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    How about MassDOT look into increasing the fees for the approximately 50,000 oversized vehicles needing permits annually to travel within the state? If I’m reading the state’s website correctly, the special hauling fee is only $350. Since trucks are responsible for most of the wear and tear on the roads and bridges, why not have them pick up the tab for the damage they cause when they exceed weight limits?

    • QuincyQuarry.com

      Granted, the state fuel tax isn’t exactly high or much of a burden, larger vehicle get fewer miles per gallon and so provide more fuel tax revenue per mile traveled than – say – a Prius.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    I wonder what $800,000 actually buys in repairs for an elevated roadway.

  • blueshift

    “Structurally deficient but safe” sounds like “they’ll fund us once a bridge collapses; hopefully no one gets hurt.”