William M. Straus
State representative, Mattapoisett Democrat, co-chair, Joint Committee on Transportation
Sometimes, really good transportation projects seem to linger for years. Near the top of that list is the MBTA’s Red and Blue Line Connector in Boston’s inner core. The project offers economic and environmental benefits. Originally conceived as a public transit requirement for federal approval of the Big Dig, the subway project has lingered at the state level since a draft environmental report in 2010. Under both the Patrick and Baker administrations the idea of directly connecting the Blue Line to the heart of downtown has barely reached “back burner” status. A minimum of design and engineering funding more recently has kept the project from disappearing altogether.
The Blue Line is the only MBTA subway line that does not connect to the Red Line. This deprives East Boston, Revere, and other North Shore communities of the most effective public transit route to the medical facilities at Massachusetts General Hospital as well as the jobs in downtown Boston and Kendall Square, including at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mass General has even accommodated the idea in its future development plans.
The project would extend the Blue Line from its current end-point at Bowdoin Station to the Red line station at Charles Street/MGH. The extension would make use of the existing Cambridge Street right-of-way. There is no question this extension would attract more riders to the public transit system.
In 2010, the state’s environmental secretary found the project could boost transit ridership, reduce automobile travel through downtown, improve air quality, and reduce congestion in the existing downtown transfer stations. For whatever reason at the time, funding commitments for final design, permits, and construction were not aggressively pursued. The 2010 environmental certificate estimated the project would cost $750 million in 2015 dollars. A re-evaluation of tunnel construction costs by the T in 2018 suggested the price tag could be as much as $200 million lower.
For its transportation, environmental, and economic benefits, I believe the Baker Administration needs to revive this project. Major federal assistance may become available and a shared local commitment for funding by the project’s public and private beneficiaries — as is being pursued for the Allston Interchange — should be part of the effort.
Director of external relations for the Beacon Hill Institute; Wakefield resident
The seeming consensus around building the Red-Blue connector fails to appreciate any lessons from the costly, disruptive Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel project. Talk about the connector moves along in stops and starts. It remains a dubious idea that doesn’t pass any cost-benefit analysis.
Little mention is made of whether, compared with all the other transportation needs facing the MBTA, we need a “mini-Big Dig” on Cambridge Street, hard by Massachusetts General Hospital.
Estimates for the project have varied over the years, but based on recent projections it is not beyond the imagination to guess it will finally cost as much as $1 billion. All sorts of arguments have been made for the Red-Blue connector, including addressing resiliency in the face of climate change. However, like climate change, the cost disease is real. The Danish scholar Bent Flyvbjerg found that nine out of every 10 projects went over budget and that higher public transit ridership goals are typically not met.
Is the disruption of one of the city’s busiest neighborhoods worth it? What will happen to the small businesses in the neighborhood? How many lawsuits will be filed after property owners discover cracked foundations and water leaks? Are there any credible estimates of increased ridership if the connector is built? And would bus lanes replacing on-street parking from Bowdoin to Charles Circle on Cambridge Street be more effective?
One of the arguments for the connector rests on the assumption that high-tech workers from Kendall Square will not have to make the additional transfer to get to the airport. They already have an efficient way: the Silver Line from South Station on the Red Line. Similarly, any suggestion that the connector would lead to greater ridership on the T assumes that current remote work arrangements will go away. Moreover, jobs are being created outside the city.
Even with increased funding opportunities from Washington, D.C., the state can certainly find far better ways to spend on worthy transportation projects — for example, the electrification of the Newburyport/Rockport commuter rail line which passes through Lynn. A Lynn-Boston connection would be far more attractive and an economic boost to both municipalities.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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