Another idea, lowering the toll highway to ground level and raising Soldiers Field Road, was once widely favored, but then came under heavy criticism on the details of the construction, resulting in another round of ‘reviews after more than five years of debate.
This latest version would be somewhat different from the current road viaduct that crosses the region: it would be shorter and further away from the river. It would also be designed to accommodate a pedestrian and cycle walkway that could link Allston to the Charles, although it hardly looks picturesque, passing directly under the freeway.
At a marathon board meeting, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and other officials stressed that they are not making a final decision on the design. Instead, they were introducing a new option to study with others over the next few months.
But Pollack said time is running out before the existing viaduct becomes unsafe. She noted that this was the third time the State has returned to the drawing board after apparently arriving at a “preferred alternative” for the project.
“I will also say this is the last time,” she said on Monday, pledging to make a final decision this fall. “We need a preferred alternative for the throat. . . and we have to make a decision on this preferred alternative in months, not years. “
Developed after consensus collapsed on a proposal to elevate Soldiers Field Road and bring the toll highway slightly below ground level, the new setup would be a major change of course. Pollack had previously said keeping the freeway in the air would not resolve “long-standing concerns that the I-90 overpass is a barrier between the community of Allston and the Charles River.”
The maneuver could also spark a skirmish at high levels of regional policy, as Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh recently signed a letter suggesting he would “stand by” residents concerned about the building. a new viaduct. Walsh’s office said on Monday it would consider the idea.
While officials didn’t choose a design, they appeared to bolster the new viaduct design by claiming it would solve the issues that caused the backlash for the once-celebrated proposal to lift Soldiers Field Road: it would take less time to build. , would cause less disruption to commuter train service and require no infrastructure construction – temporary or permanent – on the Charles River.
“A redesigned highway viaduct has several other advantages over other” options that will be explored in the coming months, said Mike O’Dowd, who oversees the project for the state.
Rick Dimino, former Boston transportation commissioner and chairman of advocacy group A Better City, said it seemed officials were already leaning towards the new plan, citing a slide in their presentation on Monday that suggested it was the best. option.
“The highway overpass that exists today is a visual horror, visually intrusive, and an obstacle to the Charles River. In the 21st century, are we going to reproduce this? Said Dimino. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
The state will continue to study the idea of the Soldiers Field Road viaduct, which many advocates supported because it would require a much smaller footprint, but was subsequently criticized after the state described its construction process extremely disruptive.
Officials will also consider an idea to bring all infrastructure to ground level, another favorite of some advocates as this could easily allow walkways to connect the neighborhood to the river. But O’Dowd suggested the idea is still unlikely because it would require encroachment on the Charles River, a permit risk Pollack has long said she was unwilling to test.
It appears state officials would not be considering a version that eliminates traffic lanes or narrows existing lanes or highway shoulders to make everything fit to ground level.
Harry Mattison, a resident of Allston and a member of a public task force on the project, said the announcement was “the worst possible outcome” as the state seemed to suggest it now preferred to keep the highway at high toll.
The state should focus on options that more closely match the vision of the neighborhood, such as raising Soldiers Field Road or upgrading everything, and engineered solutions that address issues related to the process. construction, he said.
“It’s not the idea that’s bad,” Mattison said. “It’s like saying, ‘Here’s a burnt steak.’ It’s not that the steak is bad, it’s that the burnt steak is bad.
Other supporters took hope for Monday’s meeting.
Conservation Law Foundation attorney Staci Rubin said she was concerned Pollack would announce a final decision; keeping the process open will allow for a more in-depth discussion. She said state officials are expected to indicate how they will mitigate the environmental impacts of the various plans over the coming months, in order to compare the options and decide which is best.
If all else fails, the state could repair the existing viaduct, Pollack said.
Betsy Taylor, a member of the board of directors of the Department of Transport, said the state should be prepared to fall back on this option if “a lack of consensus persists”.
“For my part, I will do my best to repair the viaduct, as I believe the safety of the traveling public is the first and highest priority,” she said.
While the debate on the project centered on the “gorge” area, the plan would also allow the toll motorway to be straightened out where it loops near the junction at exit 18 and to add a “train station”. west ‘rail and bus with four tracks and three land platforms that would be open for development. Pollack said those parts of the project are moving forward, although the throat debate continues.
“It’s important to remember that the throat is not the project,” she said. “The gorge is one piece of a very important and complicated multimodal project.”
Also on Monday, officials admitted that another large-scale transport initiative – the delivery of new fleets of metro cars on the Red and Orange lines – had derailed, months after a third new train was expected for the first time on the orange line.
MBTA chief executive Steve Poftak cited plant closures due to the coronavirus in China and Springfield, where trains are being assembled, and said officials were working with Chinese manufacturer CRRC, to develop a new program.