Two important meetings for the Allston I-90 project were held in mid-April. On April 18, the Urban Design Committee of the Boston Society of Architects hosted a workshop charrette to explore new ideas for three locations in the narrow portion of the transportation right of way along the Charles River known as the “Throat” where the Turnpike viaduct will be removed and the roadway rebuild on the ground. Four lanes of Soldiers Field Road will be relocated over four lanes of the Turnpike to allow space to accommodate all of the transportation facilities and an enhanced river edge in the narrow corridor.
Following an introduction and update on the project presented by Thomas Nally of A Better City, Tad Read of the Boston Planning and Development Agency, and neighborhood activist Jessica Robertson, the 100 participants divided into six groups to explore ideas for three areas:
1. The pedestrian and bicycle crossing of the corridor between Commonwealth Avenue and the edge of the river at Agganis Way near the western end of the Throat.
2. The Paul Dudley White Path and the edge of the river along the length of the Throat.
3. The potential development parcel and connection from the BU Bridge to the river at the eastern end of the Throat.
At the end of the evening, the groups reported out and summarized their work. This large group of designers, activists, and other stakeholders came away from the session with a better understanding of the potential for making new connections that would not have been possible if MassDOT had not chosen to pursue this preferred alternative.
At the April 24 Task Force meeting, Ken Miller of the Federal Highway Administration introduced a presentation on the federal environmental review of the Allston project. The first step in the process is issuing a Notice of Intent to file an environmental report followed by beginning a scoping process. The state and the federal process will be coordinated, that will mean the original plan to issue a state Final EIR scheduled for the end of 2019 will be delayed. A Federal Draft EIS and a state Notice of Project Change will be issued together, and a joint Final EIR and Final EIS and the federal Record of Decision is expected to be issued by July 2021with federal permits issued within 90 days of that date. This is a significant change to the project schedule discussed last year.
Also at the Task Force meeting, Jim Keller of Tetra Tech, consultants to MassDOT, presented simplified diagrams illustrating construction staging plans for both the “Hybrid” ( Soldiers Field Road over westbound I-90) and “Modified Hybrid” (Soldiers Field Road over eastbound I-90) variations. More detailed staging plans and sections had been issued to Task Force members in advance of the meeting. The staging for each option is similar.
Two significant concerns were raised and discussed at the meeting. In order to maintain four lanes of service on Soldiers Field Road during part of the construction period, at least one and one-half lanes need to be accommodated beyond the bank of the Charles River, with the Paul Dudley White pedestrian and bicycle path on a floating path in the river. This proposed temporary use of the river departs from the long-stated intention to stay out of the river, and the implications for permitting need further review. Another concern raised was maintaining daytime two track commuter rail service on the Worcester mainline during the construction period which is not possible in the staging plans presented. It was suggested that changes in the sequence of viaduct demolition and construction of eastbound Turnpike lanes could provide an opportunity for maintaining the service and the team was urged to study that possibility.
More discussion of construction staging as well as environmental review scheduling and permitting is planned for the next Task Force meeting on May 23.