T notes: Another option tossed into Pike design mix

Cost of connecting Red, Blue Lines drops considerably

THE OPTIONS FOR REPLACING a section of the Massachusetts Turnpike running between the Charles River and Boston University appeared to shrink on Monday, but then expanded again as officials said they would consider the possibility of running trains and cars at ground level while elevating a bike and pedestrian path.

The so-called viaduct section of the Turnpike is deteriorating rapidly and needs to be replaced while retaining all of the current transportation elements – eight lanes of the Turnpike, four lanes of Soldiers Field Road, four railroad tracks, and a pedestrian-bicycle path. The estimate cost of the project is around $1 billion.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack filed a draft environmental report on the project that included three options – rebuild the section of the Pike as is, with the Turnpike lanes elevated above the railroad tracks adjacent to Soldiers Field Road and the pedestrian-bicycle path; put all of the transportation elements at ground level; or go with a hybrid approach that would elevate some transportation element other than the Turnpike lanes.

After a public outcry that Pollack was intent on rebuilding the section of the Pike as is, the secretary called in a group of experts to evaluate the various options. The experts, led by Jack Wright, an engineer with Weston & Sampson who previously helped redesign the Green Line extension to Somerville and Medford to reduce its cost, unveiled its preliminary analysis late last month and delivered an executive summary of its final report to the Department of Transportation board on Monday.

The analysis raised concerns about putting all the transportation elements at ground level, saying that approach would squeeze the bicycle-pedestrian path up against the Charles River, limit the amount of green space along the river, and create potentially serious permitting challenges. The ground-level approach took another hit when its chief sponsor, the business group A Better City, urged the transportation board to consider a new hybrid approach it was pushing.

Wright’s team in September unveiled a hybrid approach that would elevate the four lanes of Soldiers Field Road above the four lanes of the Turnpike westbound. After that meeting, A Better City proposed a hybrid approach that would put the bike-pedestrian path above the westbound lanes of Soldiers Field Road. Wright said on Monday that his team will fully vet A Better City’s proposal over the next few weeks.

Fred Salvucci, the former secretary of transportation and current MIT professor, said he thought the two hybrid approaches were the most likely to advance.

Pollack, who will make the final decision on which viaduct approach to build sometime after mid-November, noted the as-is approach would allow for 8-foot shoulders on the Turnpike, which could double as dedicated bus lanes if the state chose to go that route in the future. The other options allow for shoulders of just 2 to 4 feet, she said.

Pollack also said the hybrid and as-is approaches would allow for separate bike and pedestrian paths, while the ground-level approach would require bicyclists and pedestrians to share space as they do now.

In terms of cost, the hybrid and as-is approaches had similar price tags. The analysis indicated the hybrid and as-is approaches both had relatively low permitting risks while the hybrid approach would be slightly better in permitting north-south connections across the transportation corridor.

Red-Blue connector cost drops

The projected cost of building a subway connection between the Blue and Red Lines has fallen by hundreds of millions of dollars since the state last priced it out in 2010.

According to a presentation by state transportation officials at Monday’s meeting of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, the cost in 2010, expressed in 2018 dollars, was $413 million. The same tunnel today would cost  somewhere between $200 million and $350 million, depending on the construction method. The Blue-Red connection would connect the Blue Line leaving Government Center with the Red Line at Charles/MGH. Bowdoin, which is currently the last Blue Line stop, would be shut down.

The analysis indicated digging a trench for the subway line down Cambridge Street would be the most cost effective approach but also the most disruptive. The analysis indicated the trench approach would cost $200 to $250 million and take three years to complete.

Officials estimated digging the tunnel in sequential segments would be less disruptive, costing between $250 and $300 million, and take four to five years to complete. Bringing in a tunnel boring machine to do the job would cost $300 to $350 million and take three to four years. The analysis said the construction risks would be lowest with the trench approach.

Scott Hamwey, manager of long range planning for the Transportation Department, said the cost estimates included just the cost of building the connection between the two lines. He said station buildouts, design costs, and other features would hike the cost another 30 to 40 percent.

In a to-do list for 2040, T officials earlier this year called for an underground pedestrian link between State on the Blue Line and Downtown Crossing on the Red. They put off an actual subway connection until after 2040, but pressure to move faster on a subway link has escalated, particularly as development along the Red and Blue Lines grows and passenger traffic at Logan Airport on the Blue Line increases.

New ideas for commuter rail service

State officials on Monday began laying out how they might envision commuter rail service of the future.

Currently, most commuter rail trains carry people from the suburbs into Boston’s North and South Stations in the morning and home at night. Scott Hamwey, manager of long-rang planning for the Transportation Department, said officials are looking at several other approaches with the goal of attracting more riders and providing them with greater convenience.

At one extreme is regional rail, which would provide a subway-like service on the commuter rail lines, running more trains throughout the day. Another option is to offer more express trains from North and South Station to key nodes along the transportation network, including Gateway Cities and communities where significant parking is available next to the station.

Urban rail is another approach under consideration, which would provide subway-like service in the urban core and more traditional peak and off-peak, service outside that core. Urban rail could also be combined with more express trains.

The one option that generated the most discussion at Monday’s meeting of the Fiscal and Management Control Board envisioned travelers using the commuter rail to connect to the subway system outside the downtown core. For example, the Needham Line could stop at Forest Hills on the Orange Line, where travelers could hop on the subway or catch a commuter rail train coming in on another line to South Station. The approach would reduce commuter rail congestion between Forest Hills and South Station, allowing more frequent service.

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.

Other subway connection points outside the downtown core could be Braintree, Sullivan Square, Malden Center, and Wonderland. The commuter rail option also raised the possibility of an expanded South Station, a North South Rail Link, and a commuter rail connection between a proposed West Station on the Worcester commuter rail line and Kendall Square on the Red Line.

Hamwey said he plans to develop eight different service approaches over the next several months that would then be vetted through a public outreach process.