Beginning this summer, commuters are in for longer rides as the Massachusetts Department of Transportation prepares to extend the Prudential tunnel under parts of Massachusetts Avenue and Boylston Street to make way for an air-rights real estate development.
Extending the tunnel involves upgrading and expanding ventilation systems — fans, controls and other electrical components — as well as installing piles and set beams to support a deck. These activities require Massachusetts Turnpike lane closures, both temporary and long-term, to create work areas. And with work areas come speed reductions to ensure worker safety over the estimated 16-month project.
The project will, inescapably, worsen traffic conditions on a stretch of highway already in crisis congestion conditions. This is bad news for MetroWest and Worcester-area commuters. And that’s just the beginning.
Not too long after the Prudential tunnel work is completed, the $1.1 billion 10-year Allston Multimodal Project will begin, which involves the demolition of the Boston University viaduct. The proposed lane closures and speed reductions for drivers, and track closures and speed reductions on the commuter rail, amount to colossal commuter disruption.
Also looming is the massive project to repair or replace viaducts at the Mass. Pike-Route 128 interchange, another project with the potential to cause years of intense traffic congestion.
Motorists and riders should demand a plan to mitigate commuting pain. It should include:
• Consideration of temporary ramps to allow drivers of eastbound passenger vehicles to exit the turnpike after Allston but before Massachusetts Avenue, in the vicinity of Kenmore Square, to access the Longwood Medical area and Back Bay before arriving at the air-rights construction zone. Such temporary ramps would be useful to help motorists avoid construction activity in Allston once the Allston Multimodal Project begins.
• Offer additional midday and weekend service on the Worcester commuter line to encourage drivers to avoid using the turnpike during this extended construction period.
• Secure rail equipment to provide added peak period Worcester line capacity to encourage turnpike drivers to use commuter rail, in recognition of the line’s already-crowded conditions.
• Develop construction staging for Allston that maintains two-track rail service at all times, even if it means temporary use of an additional 15 feet of bypass roadway over the edge of the Charles River, as is apparently going to be necessary in any case.
• Prioritize securing adequate buffer space for the two Worcester tracks next to construction crews to minimize the need for rail service speed reductions, especially during peak periods.
• Provide additional park-and-ride opportunities in the turnpike and Route 9 corridor, and additional Green Line and commuter bus services to provide western commuters with reasonable options to get to work avoiding the disruption that will be caused by the turnpike construction activity.
These are all legitimate mitigation activities during construction, like those that were financially supported using federal highway funds during reconstruction of the Southeast Expressway. The Green Line extension project is currently avoiding disruption of two-track Fitchburg and Lowell commuter rail service during construction in the very narrow space available for the GLX. The Worcester line, which is at risk of a lengthy period of disruption, deserves the same consideration. Serious planning for a comprehensive approach needs to begin now for it to be timely and effective.
Mary Connaughton is director of government transparency at the Pioneer Institute and served on the Mass. Turnpike Authority board from 2005 to 2009. James Aloisi is a former state secretary of transportation and Mass. Turnpike board chairman. He serves on the TransitMatters board.