It’s no secret: A traffic jam is a surefire way to ruin the day.
But a trio of transportation enthusiasts are trying to make your travels a bit smoother, starting with Thanksgiving’s challenging traffic.
Ari Ofsevit of Cambridge, Boston resident Andrew Collier, and Evan Coopersmith of Washington, D.C., have teamed up to launch Traffic Hackers, a website aimed at helping Boston-area drivers find the best times to hit the road.
The website uses real-time traffic data from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to let commuters see what the roads look like at that moment, check average traffic levels on previous dates, and run models predicting the best time to start driving.
Ofsevit said they were eager to help commuters figure out when to drive and when to take public transit.
“Whenever I’m sitting in traffic, I think, ‘Would it have been nice to have known ahead of time just how bad it was going to be?’ ” he said.
The three started the website last year as an entry at MassDOT’s Visualizing Transportation Hackathon. In time, they hope to create an app for smartphones.
They wanted to go live before Thanksgiving, when the holiday traffic is on the minds of many. Ofsevit said he is no stranger to hellish Thanksgiving travels: He drives annually to New York City for the holiday, and has noticed the trip can range from 3½ hours to nearly double that, depending on the time he leaves.
The hackers’ advice? During Thanksgiving week, do not leave Boston on Tuesday at 4:45 p.m., Wednesday at 3 p.m., or on Thursday between 10 and 11 a.m. — unless you love highway parking lots.
You can visit their new site at traffichackers.com.
Big Dig’s final case
The Big Dig is officially over, at least by one important measure.
The project began in 1985 when the state hired a contractor to create a plan for a new harbor tunnel to the airport, a new tunnel under downtown Boston, and a new park on the site where the hulking old Central Artery once stood as an ugly barrier between the city and its waterfront.
Early — and unrealistic — estimates pegged the cost at $2 billion. But by the time the massive project limped to completion in 2007, cost overruns and increases in its scope had driven the price tag to $22 billion, including borrowing costs.
In 2006, a passenger in a car en route to the airport was tragically killed in a ceiling collapse. The project became mired in more than $1 billion in legal claims and counterclaims, with contractors saying they were owed more money because of changes and additions in the work they were expected to do.
The project’s planner and manager, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, widely blamed for cost overruns and delays, eventually returned its $500 million in earnings to the state and left town. Litigation among dozens of other contractors and the state clogged the courts for years.
On Wednesday, the state Transportation Department unceremoniously approved a settlement giving contractors Perini-Kiewit-Cashman $88 million for work done under South Station more than a decade ago. That settled the Dig’s last contractor dispute.
“No question it was worth it,” Joel Lewin, the lawyer who represented the contractors in the last settlement, said of the Big Dig. “It has paid for itself many times over in economic development, traffic management, and aesthetics. It’s been a tremendous improvement to the city.”
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that taxpayer payments on the bonds that financed the project continue to 2038.
MBTA’s brain center gets $6m upgrade
When Sean M. McCarthy, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s chief operating officer, first began working in the MBTA’s newest operations control center in 1997, it was a gem in the public transit world, he said.
But the luster faded as the center’s technology fell behind.
Not anymore: The MBTA recently invested a $6 million Homeland Security grant into upgrading the operations center, which is integral to the daily commutes of thousands of people, at its High Street building near South Station. The work required moving all of the center’s employees to a South Boston building, which housed a backup system, for nearly three months.
Last week, Frank DePaola, the state’s acting transportation secretary, took a tour of the redesigned operations control center on the seventh floor at 45 High St.
The event brought McCarthy back to where he worked years ago as a dispatcher and manager.
The upgrades at the MBTA’s brain center include 20 new screens, added to the previous 40, to display surveillance footage, and a floor plan that includes a desk for a transit officer always on call for emergencies.
“I remember it was a lot darker in here,” said DePoala as he walked around.
McCarthy said it was difficult to do a complete upgrade of the center, which is open 24 hours a day, but necessary. Before the upgrade, several screens were permanently dark because the parts to fix them are no longer made.
“We literally were fabricating our own components, buying them from mom and pop operations,” he said.
Beyond the new state-of-the-art technology, McCarthy said, the upgraded center offers a better work environment for employees, who have to be constantly on the ball as they monitor your daily commute.
“It’s a lot cleaner, and a lot easier on the eyes,” he said.