Mass DOT I-91 Study & East-West Rail | Connecting Point | Oct. 24, 2018


>>>THERE’S BEEN LOTS OF
TRANSPORTATION NEWS IN MASSACHUSETTS IN RECENT WEEKS –
THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION RECENTLY
COMPLETED ITS STUDY OF 1-91 IN THE REGION, A REPORT THAT WAS
YEARS IN THE MAKING. AMONG THE
FINDINGS THERE, IT’S UNLIKELY THAT I-91 IN SPRINGFIELD WILL
BE PLACED UNDERGROUND. AND THE
STATE HAS TAKEN THE NEXT STEP TOWARD AN IN-DEPTH STUDY OF
WEST TO EAST RAIL SERVICE IN MA I ASKED TIM BRENNAN, EXECUTIVE
DIRECTOR, OF THE PIONEER VALLEY PLANNING COMMISSION WHAT’S
BEHIND THE TIMING NOW?>>GETTING A CONTRACT IN PLACE
BETWEEN THE CONSULTANT, THEY’VE IDENTIFIED A PREFERRED
CONSULTANT, THEY’RE NEGOTIATING TO GET A
CONTRACT. THEY WON’T REVEAL, WHICH IS
STANDARD OPERATING PRACTICE. AND ONCE THE CONTRACT IS SET.>>REVEAL SPECIFICALLY WHO IS
GOING TO DO THE PROPOSAL.>>ONCE THAT CONTRACT IS SET,
THEN THE CONTRACTOR GETS A NOTICE TO PROCEED. THERE’S AN 18-MONTH TIME LINE
ON IT. MY GUESS IS WE’RE PROBABLY A
MONTH OR TWO OUT BEFORE WE WOULD GET THAT ANNOUNCEMENT. AND THEN THE WORK WOULD BEGIN
TO FLOW. PROBABLY THREE MONTHS AFTER
THAT, FOUR MONTHS, THERE WOULD BE THE FIRST WORK GROUP
MEETING.>>WOW. SO PROBABLY WITHIN THE NEXT
SIX MONTHS WE’LL HAVE SOME NEWS ABOUT THE STATUS OF
WHAT’S GOING ON AND SOME OF THE FINDINGS MAYBE EVEN?>>THEY WANT TO TRY TO GET A
FINDINGS REPORT OUT WITHIN A YEAR. SO PROBABLY BY THE END OF
2019, IF THEY ARE ABLE TO STICK WITH THAT TIME LINE,
YOU’D BE SEEING THE REPORT.>>IS THIS SOONER THAN
EXPECTED IN YOUR MIND OR IS IT ABOUT ON TRACK WITH WHAT YOU
EXPECTED?>>ABOUT ON TRACK. NOTHING UNUSUAL. PRETTY MUCH MASS-DOT HONORED
THEIR PROMISE TO TRY TO GET QUICKLY OUT OF THE STATE RAIL
PLAN, WHICH WAS LAST MARCH, INTO THIS RAIL STUDY, I THINK
THEY’VE DONE A GOOD JOB IN TERMS OF MOVING IT ALONG.>>OBVIOUSLY WE KNOW WHERE
CURRENT RAIL LINE EXISTS, WE KNOW WHERE SOME OF THE GAPS
AR. BUT WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO SEE
OUT OF AN ACTUAL DANIGIBLE PRODUCT?>>IT’S GOING TO BE
COMPLICATED. AS THE SPOKESWOMAN POINTED OUT
AT THE MEETING, IT HAS SIX ALTERNATIVES, IT’S NOT LIKE
EASY SLIDE FROM ONE ALTERNATIVE TO THE NEXT,
THERE’S A HIGH-SPEED PIECE IN, RUNNING TRAINS TO SPRINGFIELD
AND OCCASIONAL TRAINS OUT TO PITSFIELD.>>THAT WAS A PITT OF A
SURPRISE, THE PITTSFIELD PART. THERE WAS SOME CONCERN THAT
WOULDN’T GET DONE IN THIS ROUND?>>WHAT HAPPENED THERE WAS THE
STATE HEARD A LOT OF ADVOCACY OUT OF THE BERKSHIRES TO BE
LOOKED AT, IF THERE WAS GOING TO BE ANOTHER STUDY, AND THEY
HONORED THAT. SIMILAR EXAMPLE WAS PALMER HAS
ALWAYS WANTED A STOP AND IT WAS REALLY IFFY IF THEY’D GET
ONE. IT LOOKS LIKE THEY WILL BE
LOOKED AT IN TERMS OF THAT OPTION.>>IN TERMS OF ASSESSING THOSE
SIX DIFFERENT OPTIONS, DO YOU HAVE ANY SENSE OF ANYTHING
THAT’S JUMPING OUT TO YOU AS ONE THAT YOU THINK OR TWO THAT
YOU THINK THESE ARE MORE VIABLE THAN THE OTHERS?>>WELL, ACTUALLY, THERE WAS A
PREVIOUS STUDY THAT WE WERE VERY MUCH ENAMORED WITH THAT
CAME OUT IN JUNE OF ’16 AND TALKED ABOUT A TRADITIONAL
RAIL CONNECTION, BOSTON, WORCESTER, SPRINGFIELD,
HARTFORD, NEW HAVEN. AND THE REASON FOR THAT IS THE
RIDERSHIP, BECAUSE IT GOES THROUGH ALL THOSE METRO
AREAS. SORT OF CONNECTS TWO BARBELLS,
BOSTON AND NEW YORK CITY. YOU WANT RIDERS TO MAKE A RAIL
SYSTEM VIABLE. WHAT I’VE ADVOCATED, IT SOUNDS
LIKE THEY MAY LOOK AT, AT LEAST ONE OF THOSE SIX
ALTERNATIVES IS TO NOT THROW AWAY THE HEADING SOUTH PIECE,
WHICH I THINK WILL ULTIMATELY MAKE A LOT OF SENSE IN TERMS
OF FEASIBILITY, MORE RIDERS YOU HAVE, MORE FARES YOU HAVE,
THE LESS EXPENSIVE IT IS FOR PUBLIC MONEYS TO MAKE IT
HAPPEN.>>THE ARGUMENT AGAINST ADDING
IN THE SOUTHERN LINK BE IT’S GOING TO SLOW IT DOWN AND
OVERALL, YOU WANT TO KEEP THE TRAIN TRIP FROM HERE TO BOSTON
UNDER WHAT YOU WOULD DO IN A CAR?>>YES, TRUE. BUT PART OF THE THING THAT I
THINK WE TRY TO TALK ABOUT LAST TIME WAS, YOU CAN GO FROM
SPRINGFIELD TO BOSTON IN A CAR IN ABOUT AN HOUR AND A HALF IF
THE CAR IS MOVING.>>YEAH, RIGHT, IF YOU’RE NOT
IN BOTTLENECK TRAFFIC.>>I DO IT A ALL THE TIME, AND
I COUNT ON OFTENTIMES THREE HOURS NOW. BECAUSE YOU CAN GO SO FAR AND
YOU HIT A WALL AND YOU CRAWL THE REST OF THE WAY. IF YOU’RE ON A TRAIN, FIRST OF
ALL, YOU’RE RELEASED FROM DRIVING AND THEN IF YOU GET
THINGS LIKE HIGH BANDWIDTH AND WI-FI ON THE TRAIN, YOU CAN
WORK ON THE TRAIN. SO IN TODAY —
>>YOU DON’T HAVE TO PAY FOR PARKING IN BOSTON?>>YEAH. SO THERE’S A LOT OF FEATURES. AND AGAIN WE’RE NOT WORKING IN
THIS SORT OF ATYPICAL — PEOPLE DON’T ALWAYS WORK
9:00 TO 5:00, THEY DON’T WORK FIVE DAYS A WEEK. LOTS OF PEOPLE WORK OUT OF
THEIR HOME AND COMMUTE OCCASIONALLY TO METRO
CENTERS. SO IN ANY EVENT, I HOPE THAT
WE CAN GET A RAIL ALTERNATIVE THAT COULD BE DONE WITHIN A
REASONABLE AMOUNT OF TIME.>>ANOTHER PIECE OF
TRANSPORTATION NEWS THAT CAME OUT RECENTLY IS THE MASS
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION FINISHED ITS LONG TALKED
ABOUT — LONG WORK GROUP, LONG STUDIED REPORT OF I-91 AND
WHAT IT WOULD LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN THERE. PERHAPS NOT A SURPRISE, BUT A
PIECE OF NEWS THAT CAME OUT IS THAT 91 COMING THROUGH
SPRINGFIELD WILL NOT BE PUT UNDERGROUND. MERELY A DOLLARS AND SENSE
DECISION THERE?>>YES, I THINK IT IS. THEY LOOKED AT TWO SUNKEN
ALTERNATIVES, THESE WEREN’T COMPLETE TUNNELS, BY THE WAY. EACH OF THEM HAVE A PRICE TAG
OVER $3 BILLION. THEN THERE WAS ANOTHER
ALTERNATIVE, SUPER ELEVATED, YOU COMPLETELY REBUILD AT
OVERGRADE, AND THAT HAD A PRICE GRADE OF AROUND
$3.1 BILLION. GOT TO KEEP THAT B IF IN THE
EQUATION. SO THEY GRAVITATED BACK TO A
REBUILD AS WE WOULD KNOW IT NOW. IT WOULD NEED A LOT MORE WORK
IN THE NEXT ITERATION BECAUSE A LOT OF STRUCTURAL WORK WOULD
HAVE TO BE DONE AS WELL. AS A PRICE TAG OF
$695 MILLION.>>KEEPING THE HIGHWAY AS IS
WAS CONTROVERSIAL WHEN IT FIRST CAME OUT BECAUSE IT
DIVIDED COMMUNITIES HERE IN DOWNTOWN SPRINGFIELD. IN YOUR MIND, IS THIS JUST
ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF BOSTON GETS SOMETHING, BIG DIG WAS
OBVIOUSLY A MASSIVE TRANSPORTATION PROJECT THAT
TOOK LARGE PORTIONS AND OUT IT UNDERGROUND. BOSTON GETS THINGS THAT
WESTERN MASS DOESN’T?>>WELL, THERE’S SOME OF THAT,
THAT WAS ABSOLUTELY TRUE DURING THE BIG DIG ERA. WE SAW OUR FORTUNES AND AMOUNT
OF MONEYS PLUMMET, AND IT GOT TO THE POINT AFTER THE MEDIA
SORT OF PUSHED OUT THE ACTUAL COSTS OF THE DIG, ALL KINDS OF
THINGS HAPPENED, THE FEDS CAPPED THE AMOUNT OF MONEY,
THEY INSISTED A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF MONEY HAD TO FLOW OUT TO
THE RELATE OF THE COMMONWEALTH. THE LEGISLATURE FOLLOWED
SUIT. SO WE’VE BEEN IN RECOVERY MODE
FOR ALL THAT TIME. HAVING SAID THAT, WHAT ALSO
HAPPENED WITH THAT DELAY, LOTS MORE PROJECTS BACKED UP BEHIND
US. AND WE JUST HAVE A HUGE AMOUNT
OF BACKLOG THAT THE PRICE TAGS ARE JUST INCREDIBLE.>>YEAH, AS IT IS, LOOKING AT
NOT ONLY THE SPRINGFIELD PIECE OF THIS, BUT ALSO THEN FIXING
SOME PARTS OF I-91 IN LONG MEADOW AND SOME OTHER GRIDLOCK
AREAS, WE ARE TALKING ABOUT OVER $800 MILLION PRICE TAG
AND IT LOOKS LIKE AS THE REPORT SAID, IT WILL BE
PORTIONED OUT OVER 10 OR 12 YEARS AS REPORTED BY
MASSLIVE?>>THAT’S ACTUALLY THE PIECES
THAT WE THINK, I’M TALKING FROM THE PLANNING PERSPECTIVE,
AND PLANNING COMMISSION PERSPECTIVE, THOSE PROJECTS
ARE WORTHY PROJECTS, AND COULD BE DONE OVER THE NEXT 15 TO 20
YEARS, THEY WOULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE. WE’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO
STRAIGHTEN OUT THE SPAGHETTI DOWN AT THE SOUTH END BRIDGE,
THERE’S A LOT OF SAFETY PROBLEMS, CAPACITY PROBLEMS,
LANE DROPS, WE THINK ALL THAT COULD BE SORTED OUT, PLUS
BEING ABLE TO GO CROSS-RIVER WITH A BIKEWAY FACILITY. ONE SIDE OR THE OTHER. WE ARE HOPEFUL THAT WE CAN
REALLY FOCUS ON THOSE PROJECTS, PHASE THEM OVER
TIME, TO MAKE THE BITE FINANCIALLY A LITTLE BIT MORE
MODEST. AND 25, 30 YEARS FROM NOW WILL
COME VIADUCT WHATEVER, NEW ONE WE IMAGINE AT THAT TIME.

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