Two months ago in the wake of the Red Line derailment, I, along with 42 business leaders called on the big three – Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Karen Spilka – to address our transportation crisis. While we hope we are now past the worst of the Red Line delays, we have learned something valuable from this experience: when one piece of our transportation system breaks, the impact is system-wide.
So, as we brace for more than a decade of massive construction on the Mass. Pike, let’s make our whole transportation system part of the solution. The time to invest in improved service on the Worcester Line and transit on the Grand Junction right-of-way is now.
MassDOT does not currently have a cogent plan for how to address the certain gridlock that will come with the current number of lanes on the Pike being reduced by 50 percent in several places. Given that commuters in Greater Boston already lose 164 hours to congestion annually (the worst in the nation), this looming crisis and the lack of a plan are of grave concern to our business community.
A Better Plan
Fortunately, a number of stakeholders from the Allston/I-90 Task Force have a plan: give commuters more options and improve our transit infrastructure.
There are four elements to this plan:
- Immediately increase off-peak frequency of the Framingham/Worcester Line
- Keep both tracks of the Framingham/Worcester Line operational throughout construction
- Build West Station
- Bring transit to the Grand Junction Line and create a new connection to Kendall and North Station
TransitMatters has already laid out how to tackle the first element in its report, “Proof of Concept: How to Provide Frequent, All-day Service on the Worcester Line.” The state should immediately start working to initiate more frequent service with a goal of every 30 minutes during most of the day.
An Opportunity for Better Transit
Ridership on the Worcester Line is up 40 percent since 2012. Yet instead of encouraging more riders on this much more efficient and sustainable mode at a time when we need it most, MassDOT is planning to close one of the tracks. We can’t allow this to happen. MassDOT should use any tool at their disposal to keep this vital link open.
Access to transit played a key role in Kendall’s transformation into a thriving epicenter of global innovation, and it will continue to play a role in sustaining our long–term success. While our innovation district has grown by nearly 400 percent in the last 30 years, adding millions of square feet of R&D space, tens of thousands of jobs and a square mile of companies whose market caps stand in the trillions, transit has helped our share of drivers remain flat.
By building West Station, MassDOT can activate the Grand Junction Line for transit service, connecting Framingham/Worcester riders in one transfer to the incredible growth happening in Kendall Square, to North Station and connecting Allston and Kendall Square to the northern commuter lines. This relieves pressure on the Red and Green lines by giving riders new options to reach their destination or make connections without going downtown. Building this new station both cost-effectively and with an eye toward more connections is critical for meeting future mobility needs.
We have an opportunity to act ahead of a crisis. I hope the commonwealth, municipalities, businesses and civic groups can work together in the next two years to prepare for an I-90 project that keeps our people moving and helps us take the next important step in delivering an excellent transit system.
As the governor’s office declared in the Commission on the Future of Transportation report, the commonwealth’s goal should be to move people, not cars. Timely implementation of a transit plan will ensure that people to the west of Boston maintain their sanity – and that our economy maintains its productivity – while this generation-long construction project unfolds.
C.A. Webb is president of the Kendall Square Association.