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Leaders eye long-term plan for Seaport traffic

Traffic routinely backs up on Northern Avenue in the Seaport District during rush hours.

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Photo/File

Traffic routinely backs up on Northern Avenue in the Seaport District during rush hours.

In acknowledgment of the growing gridlock in the Seaport District, city and state leaders gathered Wednesday to offer modest short-term plans they hope will alleviate some of the neighborhood’s traffic issues. While no big-ticket fix was identified, officials promised that a new long-term transportation plan for the area is forthcoming.

It is a problem that has drawn increasing attention in recent months: The Innovation District’s success has outpaced its transportation capacity, leading to rush hour nightmares for motorists and commuters on the Silver Line, with little relief in sight.

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The last comprehensive transportation plan for the neighborhood was published in 2000. Much has changed since then, and city and state officials have found themselves without a blueprint for how to accommodate the area’s growth.

“Our challenge is to support new economic growth and enhance the quality of life in the neighborhoods,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino said at Wednesday’s press conference. “A sound transportation plan is key to achieving this balance.”

Menino listed small-scale efforts the city has taken in recent weeks. Transportation Department officials restriped the road surface of Evelyn Moakley Bridge, the stretch of Seaport Boulevard that connects the Fort Point area with the Financial District, to prevent traffic snarls caused by confused motorists. They have added “Don’t Block the Box” signs at three intersections, warning motorists to refrain from stranding themselves between traffic lights.

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More changes are coming, Menino said: Hubway will introduce five new bike-sharing stations to the Innovation District. LED signs will be posted at parking garage exits, guiding people toward the quickest route to reach an Interstate 93 onramp. In the middle of next month, the city will install 330 parking spot sensors that will connect with a smart phone app to alert drivers to available spots.

But plans for large-scale, long-term solutions to the Seaport’s traffic problem are in the planning stages. Richard A. Davey, the state’s transportation secretary, said the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority may increase service on the No. 4 and No. 7 buses, and are considering how to improve service on the Silver Line.

Davey said the state is also very interested in purchasing self-propelled train cars to provide service between the Seaport and Back Bay.

Additionally, the agency received a $1.28 million federal grant to introduce ferry service between South Boston and East Boston next year. “This is a growing area, and we need to be sure we’re ahead of that curve when it comes to transportation services,” Davey said.

A Better City, an organization focused on planning and development, will soon issue a request for proposals to help craft a long-term transportation plan.

Rick Dimino, the organization’s chief executive officer, estimated that the study will take one year. He said the plan will offer strategies on how to streamline truck access in the area, will rethink the use of haul roads and bypass roads, and will provide much more detailed data on the number of people entering and exiting the Innovation District every day.

“The transportation planning effort is going to be comprehensive and will be really focused on [making] a difference in realizing the full economic potential of that area as well as improving quality of life for the residential community,” Dimino said.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com or on Twitter @martinepowers.
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