- Following a decade of discussion, MassDOT has decided on a design for the new Massachusetts Turnpike in the Allston neighborhood of Boston. The $1.7 billion project will replace an aging highway viaduct and revamp train, highway and pedestrian infrastructure and connectivity.
- Constructed in 1961, the hulking viaduct was positioned above railroad tracks running through Allston, effectively cutting off Boston University and two nearby neighborhoods' access to the pedestrian and bicyclist path along the Charles River. Right now, bicyclists in Allston seeking to reach the Paul Dudley White Path must first travel 2.2 miles and cross 17 lanes of traffic.
- After extensive input, MassDOT officials recently advanced a solution favored by community groups and transportation advocates. The "at-grade" design would place the riverfront bike path, four lanes of Soldiers Field Road, eight lanes of the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) and the rail line at roughly the same elevation. A bridge will let people biking and walking "fly over" the roadway and rail lines between the riverside path and Allston.
MassDOT had considered multiple options, said Galen Mook, executive director of the Boston-based Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, and an Allston resident. "The first option was to rebuild as-is," he said. "A second option was to have Soldiers Field Road go up and over I-90. And the third was to have it roughly at-grade."
Enabling the bike path, roadways and rail lines to be placed side by side meant narrowing the highways so that all modes could fit within a 210-foot-wide choke point called "the throat," a narrow stretch of land between Boston University and the river. This eliminates the need to place the turnpike over rail lines and keeps the roads from encroaching into the riverbed, as alternative plans proposed.
There were a number of reasons the "at-grade" solution was chosen, he said. The first was the lifetime cost. It's easier to rebuild at-grade than to rebuild a viaduct after a useful lifetime of 60 to 80 years, and it's cheaper to maintain. It’s also likely less expensive to construct.
"We believe there will be less disruption in the construction mode [with the at-grade design] than if they were to rebuild the viaduct," Mook said. "Another factor is if in the future we ever wanted to reclaim roadway and make it into parkway, that could be done more simply if everything is basically on the ground. The last thing is, we believe this simplifies transportation connectivity. It enables easier switching for both the rail lines and the future light rail we believe this project will make possible."
A couple of additional benefits of the "at-grade" solution were also noted in the final approval process: the straighter alignment of highway lanes means safer motoring, and the design enables the Paul Dudley White Path to be widened to safely accommodate additional pedestrians and bicyclists.
Funding, transit options yet undetermined
Making the decision to place the project at-grade solved one problem, but other thorny decisions have yet to be made, Mook said. Still to be determined is exactly how the project will be funded. Funding will likely come from the state, federal government and third-party sources.
"We also still need to decide on the connections for the active transportation linkage," he said. "And we still need to decide on the transit portion of this project, how much service will be involved, and the station access involved."
For bicyclists like himself, Mook said the choice of the "at-grade" option will afford a safe connection to Boston's world-class pathways without having to travel out of his way and risk crossing many lanes of traffic. Both neighborhoods gaining access to the Paul Dudley White Path are communities that "have been disproportionately impacted by the highway since its construction in 1961," he said.
As for the time frame to completion, Mook believes a final decision on the design will be made in the next two years, after which permit, funding and construction should take seven years