Transit advocates’ longtime call to “free the ramp” appears to have the ear of state officials.
The simple slogan targets a short on-ramp to the Massachusetts Turnpike in the Seaport District, tucked behind the State Police barracks and only used by emergency vehicles. Activists argue it should also be open to the Silver Line’s branches to Logan Airport and Chelsea. Today, these buses instead must travel nearly a mile out of the way, looping around the Seaport to access the Ted Williams Tunnel at the mercy of neighborhood and turnpike traffic.
Opening the ramp could save transit riders two minutes in light traffic and up to 10 minutes during a weekday rush hour.
“The T needs to stand up and say we can’t afford not to pick this low-hanging fruit, given how much traffic there is,” said Ari Ofsevit, a member of the advocacy group Transit Matters.
Now there are signs the Baker administration may do so, albeit in characteristically cautious fashion.
The MBTA’s planning document, called Focus 40, says opening the ramp could be a near-term priority within the next five years. Spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the state has hired a consultant to look at the issue, the engineering firm McMahon Associates.
State officials say a number of issues need to be sorted out before they can even decide if using the ramp is possible, including whether the highway merging lanes are properly situated for the Silver Line’s 60-foot buses. The T would also need to coordinate with police and firefighters in Boston to make sure buses don’t interfere with emergency responders.
Pesaturo declined to say how long the review will last. But even taking a close look at the ramp marks a change from last winter, when Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said getting the Silver Line on the ramp “has not been a priority.”
Opening the ramp would require the cooperation of the State Police, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Police allowed the T to use the ramp briefly in 2006, when part of the ceiling of the I-90 Connector Tunnel collapsed, shutting other access to the Williams Tunnel.
Accounts differ over whether the ramp was originally intended for transit access. The state Transportation Department says it was always intended for emergency access. But Fred Salvucci, the transportation secretary during much of the Big Dig planning, has said the ramp was planned with buses in mind.