T notes: Pollack to pick preferred ‘throat’ approach in Oct.
Very few people are riding commuter rail, ferries
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack indicated on Monday that in October she intends to pick a “preferred alternative” for the I-90 Allston project, including how to reconstruct the transportation infrastructure in the so-called “throat” area between Boston University and the Charles River.
A timetable released for the project at a meeting of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board indicated the preferred alternative would be announced in October, a draft environmental review of the preferred alternative and competing options would be completed by spring 2021, and a final decision issued by the winter.
Several transportation advocates grumbled that the environmental review should be completed before picking a preferred alternative, and not the other way around. Some say the Department of Transportation prefers an approach that would replace the existing infrastructure, with the Massachusetts Turnpike elevated on a viaduct, much as it is now.
Ari Ofsevit, a representative of Livable Streets who serves on the I-90 task force, said in testimony to the board that the One Federal Decision regulatory process Pollack is using was developed by the Trump administration to fast track pipelines and other controversial infrastructure projects.
The business group A Better City and the city of Boston have been pushing Pollack to tweak a proposal would put all of the transportation infrastructure at ground level. So far, she has refused, but said she sent a letter to A Better City on Friday saying the at-grade proposal could be tweaked as the process goes on.
The MassDOT board did not discuss Pollack’s timetable, although board member Robert Moylan Jr. offered a cautionary comment. “We need to be mindful of the opportunity this project has to improve all modes of transportation as well as the tremendous economic impact it can have overall,” he said. “Sometimes in a project like this the enemy of the good is the perfect. There will not be a perfect solution.”
Almost no one riding commuter rail, ferries
MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said buses, paratransit service, and the Blue Line are back to about 40 percent of their pre-pandemic ridership, but the commuter rail system and ferries still are traveling nearly empty at 9 percent.
Poftak said Orange and Red Line ridership is at about 20 percent of pre-pandemic levels, while the Green Line is in the high teens.
Jeffrey Gonneville, the deputy general manager of the MBTA, said no changes are planned in schedules for the ferries and commuter rail until the fall. He said the area where changes will occur is on bus service.
He said 120 routes will see service levels increase to meet rising demand and service will resume on 23 routes at minimal levels. On most of the T’s other bus routes, service is being reduced, suspended, or consolidated with other routes. He said 5 percent of buses would be held in reserve to address unexpected overcrowding on routes.
Things didn’t go so well on August 14 when the T rolled out new software for the agency’s paratransit service to handle reservations and calls.
“There were certainly some hiccups,” said MBTA Deputy General Manager Jeffrey Gonneville at a meeting of the Fiscal and Management Control Board.
Gonneville said on-time performance, which is typically around 90 percent, dropped to 50 percent and the average wait-time on calls was 19 minutes, with some callers waiting as long as 75 minutes to get through.
The situation improved last Saturday, Gonneville said, with on-time performance rising to 88 percent and the wait-time on calls falling to 3 minutes.Comings and goings
The MBTA hired Ronald Ester Jr., a 28-year veteran of the Chicago Transit Authority, as its new chief safety officer. Meanwhile, the Fiscal and Management Control Board met with just four members present on Monday, as Gov. Charlie Baker has yet to announce an appointment to replace Brian Shortsleeve, who left at the end of June.