I-90 Interchange Improvement Project & West Station | Allston

Charlie_mta

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I don't believe a deck can fit over the railroad portion of the Throat because the Grand Junction railway will ramp down, and not touch ground until the proposed pedestrian overpass location, as shown on this rendering:

 

a_tortoise

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While the Grand Junction rail is a concern, a park over the Pike could take the approach of the Olympic Sculpture Park and create a slot in this location to eliminate head clearance issues. Furthermore, the elevation of the deck could slope up a few feet in the location where it would cross the Grand Junction, to ensure that there is enough clearance. The deck would already be over 30 feet above the reconstructed Pike, so another few feet might not be too difficult with some gradual ramping up of the park space.
decking over the Pike 2.jpg
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I don't believe a deck can fit over the railroad portion of the Throat because the Grand Junction railway will ramp down, and not touch ground until the proposed pedestrian overpass location, as shown on this rendering:

Additional difficulty: a RR overpass is going to have to climb from the 11 ft. level of the Charles Bridge + SFR overpass to 16 ft. in order to pass over the Interstate as new construction. So it's going to be a longer incline down after the curve straightens. Tracks will then have to have 18 ft. overhead clearance at the park overhang as a minimum for stringing 25 kV wire over a T bi-level, so they'd have to be depressed by 2 ft. below road level to hit that clearance.

18 ft. incline @ 1.5% = 1200 ft. If the incline's starting at the 10 Buick building as shown in this render you've overshot Agganis Way and are on the opposite sideline of Nickerson Field just out of view of this drawing. I mean...I guess it could work if things were shifted another couple hundred feet over for the park decking but the render as drawn here most definitely does not compute. That incline's gonna run a bit longer than that and the decking is guaranteed to whiff on an interface with BU Student Village being behind the stadium instead.
 

BeyondRevenue

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Not that I wouldn’t love to go back and read everything about the Grand Junction line — I just don’t know why it needs to stay there at all. We could get another 20 plus feet of the throat back for a negotiation minimal at-grade option. PanAm and CSX can get served on a future NSRL ROW. This is Our town, we need to make the rules. Tough love. The GJRR is the square peg here. I understand everyone’s wish lists for it, but the GJ line needs to be removed altogether. In the future we can do urban rail and intermodal in a different way.

Oh and I love these deck pics. Deck! I said Deck!
 

jklo

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Not that I wouldn’t love to go back and read everything about the Grand Junction line — I just don’t know why it needs to stay there at all. We could get another 20 plus feet of the throat back for a negotiation minimal at-grade option. PanAm and CSX can get served on a future NSRL ROW. This is Our town, we need to make the rules. Tough love. The GJRR is the square peg here. I understand everyone’s wish lists for it, but the GJ line needs to be removed altogether. In the future we can do urban rail and intermodal in a different way.
This whole project is for Harvard to make a ton of money, and you would think Harvard would be very interested in GJ to be able to shuttle the new residents to their jobs in Kendall.
 

Tallguy

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GJ should be rebuilt to LRT standards. Decent service REQUIRES LRT, not EMUs. The sooner MassDOT admits that, the better.
 

jklo

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GJ should be rebuilt to LRT standards. Decent service REQUIRES LRT, not EMUs. The sooner MassDOT admits that, the better.
CR might be good enough for Harvard's needs; and it allows the MBTA to keep the train moves intact. Would also let you run service further back on the Worcester Line directly to Kendall if they could make it work and there was demand.
 

Wash

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CR might be good enough for Harvard's needs; and it allows the MBTA to keep the train moves intact. Would also let you run service further back on the Worcester Line directly to Kendall if they could make it work and there was demand.
You still then need to solve the problem of grade crossings. Light rail would not only serve the area better but would also be cheaper to build for the same (or better) service levels.
 

jklo

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You still then need to solve the problem of grade crossings. Light rail would not only serve the area better but would also be cheaper to build for the same (or better) service levels.
Right, the grade crossings are a big problem. I suppose you would only need to upgrade the tracks to get close to Kendall though with the CR and then run it at 10 mph or whatever up to North Station.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Not that I wouldn’t love to go back and read everything about the Grand Junction line — I just don’t know why it needs to stay there at all. We could get another 20 plus feet of the throat back for a negotiation minimal at-grade option. PanAm and CSX can get served on a future NSRL ROW. This is Our town, we need to make the rules. Tough love. The GJRR is the square peg here. I understand everyone’s wish lists for it, but the GJ line needs to be removed altogether. In the future we can do urban rail and intermodal in a different way.

Oh and I love these deck pics. Deck! I said Deck!
Federal preemption. It is illegal to zero it out with a MassDOT strongarm. MBTA, Amtrak, and CSX as co-rights holders must each file with the Surface Transportation Board for the abandonment of their rights; Keolis (for MBTA) and NNEPRA (for Downeaster) must co-file with the T and Amtrak. Then any parties affected by the extinguishing of the RR corridor--Everett Terminal owners & tenants, Pan Am; Cities of Boston/Cambridge/Somerville; Harvard, BU, MIT; all entities with vested interest in Urban Ring conversion--get chance to file support or opposing statements.

This is an impossible ask for the specific 'throat' project because the timetables don't match within an order of magnitude for the tight deadline we're on for a 'throat' decision. Doing the Urban Ring requires a lot of up-front mitigation/protection for alternate ops accommodation for the 3 primary rights holders, or else they won't oblige. Those mitigations need to be planned out years in advance while the UR is being re-studied and enacted during funded design. We aren't even at the starting gates for that, so there's absolutely no means of shuffling the deck to ensure all those details in time for locking down a new 'throat' option. You can't crayon a bunch of I.O.U.'s on a napkin to Amtrak and ask "can we delete the RR incline now, figure it out later" without that getting shot down immediately in a tsunami of adverse filings to the STB.

Further, because the Urban Ring includes West Station on its Harvard Branch, deleting the ramp or throwing it into total redesign confusion gets every UR proponent in the land--including Harvard--united in opposition to that STB docket because there's no time to substitute a designable alternate path from BU Bridge. Right now any future permutation of Urban Ring is guaranteed to West by using the Grand Junction's incumbent 2-track, 18 ft. vertical clearance, 1.5% grade RR ROW design baseline. The stet Grand Junction clearance specs are the fail-safe Urban Ring specs. You can mode-convert whenever you please at any future time and have that sure-thing West connection with these specs. Thus, none of the UR-supporting parties have any incentive to support an STB filing that expedites extinguishing the fail-safe RR clearances today in exchange for a bunch of squishier redesign TBD's yet to come. Crayon TBD's sans design certainty are a mortal threat to them, too, given the state's history of broken transit promises. There isn't enough time on the clock to sufficiently guarantee the TBD's for the Urban Ring contingent, either, so for a one-and-done STB filing they will be similarly united with the RR folks' adverse filings and make this attempt crash ever harder in front of the feds.


There's no solve for this now. If UR design kickoff were part of the overall trans-Allston makeover from Day 1 that would be a different story: we'd be years into these ancillary details that need their years of prereq planning for making the change-of-mode to the STB for the Grand Junction. Missed opportunity, whatever...but with limits to how bitterly-missed it could be given that UR compatibility is still 100% guaranteeable via the ruling RR specs. But that's not how it went: 'throat' is proceeding independently, Urban Ring study efforts have been sitting in a file cabinet for >15 years with no touches even at the paper level. There's no way to re-sync all this stuff within a same-decade overlap...and re-sync they must be in order to survive all that STB scrutiny.

With all the guarantees that must be doled out to every RR player and every Urban Ring advocate before proceeding with a RR landbank...you would have to hit pause on 'throat' designs for 8+ more years. "At-grade" is O-V-E-R if you do that...because then we're truly in a Hartford/I-84 quandry where the existing viaduct will need dozens of $M's in immediate in-situ patch repairs. Which means MassDOT is just going to roll forward with an in-situ full reconstruction because the cost chew of temp repairs to buy time becomes its own self-defeating resource drain. It ends up being mutually suicidal to everyone's more-perfect 'throat' designs.


Make no mistake...you can't alt-render a fix for this, because it's a function of time not space. The UR preliminaries + RR re-accomodations can't be sped into fewer years because they're such a pu-pu platter of disconnected individual moving parts only loosely waddable into an overall package. The STB decision to mode-change the RR has to be an all-at-once move; it doesn't compute with the timeframe for preliminaries yet to be started/planned. The 'throat' decision doesn't have years of time left to defer before patch repairs start draining resources and severely cutting into chances of all the non-viaduct perma-fixes. It has to be made NOW for at-grade anything to be in-play. None of these conflicting timetables can be zigzagged into straight-line plausibility. The range of now options has to be constrained to the timetables that fit. Grand Junction retouches aren't timetables that fit. Move on from that mission creep; there isn't a way forward getting hung up on that right now.
 
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F-Line to Dudley

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Right, the grade crossings are a big problem. I suppose you would only need to upgrade the tracks to get close to Kendall though with the CR and then run it at 10 mph or whatever up to North Station.
Crossings are a car traffic problem, not a train problem because the RR always has the unilateral right of way. It matters to the train schedules if car queues, esp. near Kendall Station or the Albany + MIT ped lights over the Mass Ave. crossing, get backed up over the tracks...but the primary concern there is that the previous Worcester-NS study of only 5 unidirectional-by-peak trains already impacted multimodal traffic (incl. bus/bike/ped) at the crossings to a near-maximal pain threshold. That study did have all the full-detailed counts at each crossing and its adjacent intersection queues. The bi-directional shuttle service at 15-min. headways each direction has NOT been studied with those same counts yet, so all above-and-beyond impacts over the train schedules from the first Worcester-NS study are huge concerning question mark that hasn't been addressed. It's hard to see how they're going to make it work all the way up to that Urban Rail-spec frequency target without untenable queue impacts given what degree of above-and-beyond it is over the counts in the WOR-NS study. Not just cars...when the 1 and CT1, which each carry more daily riders than this CR shuttle ever would, are potential delay casualties from gate timings there ends up being a pretty firm ceiling where it starts doing more transit harm than good to force-feed it.

Train schedules themselves are mainly negatively impacted by the curves and junctions. On a nonstop you might be able to hit 35 MPH on the Cambridgeport and East Cambridge straightaways since the tightest curve at Main St. would be the only limiter...but the fact that Kendall Station bookends that tightest curve means speeds everywhere between Mass Ave. and Cambridge St. get chewed down by acceleration/deceleration from a station stop...which is an order of magnitude slower even on an EMU than an LRV. Sub-20 MPH starts becoming an innate capacity limiter when you simply don't have meaningful enough stretches between curves that go any higher than that. Maybe the speedometer will surge past 25 from the perspective of a radar gun set up at MIT Briggs Field...but that's not a big achievement when it's back below that by Hyatt Regency or Metropolitan Warehouse on the approaches to/from BU Bridge curve or Kendall stop. Those above-and-beyonds are all living inside the schedule margin for error; the overall end-to-end schedule will have to be predicated at a sub-20 MPH baseline. That could end up crimping the bi-directional frequency target itself for single-track meets at the junction with the Fitchburg Line where the meander through the Northside terminal district is itself sub-20 MPH, where it'll be merging at slow-speed with 15 min. bi-directional Fitchburg main frequencies (after Waltham/128 turns get cranked up to the Urban Rail baseline). 15 bi-di through Kendall may be limited to the skin of its teeth margins by the cumulative effects of those ultra-sluggish meets.

Taken together, the car[bus/bike/ped]pocalypse and the limited capacity ceiling (which absolutely precludes running any service other than the shuttle) are twin viability threats to the RR mode. As in...track capacity margins could check out OK, but if that's sitting at its lower limit AND you're inducing a lot of nasty traffic impacts at the crossing gates (incl. to Yellow Line) it's a losing battle to force-fit.


The sea change with LRT/BRT is that they (1) can outright share traffic signal phases with the roadways to neuter most of the carpocalypse potential from all-or-nothing RR priority (esp. at Main/Broadway where the crossings happen to sit at existing traffic lights); (2) can accelerate/decelerate faster enough to physically fit within a timed signal phase where even EMU's (were they allowed to do that in the first place) are too cumbersome for that precision task; (3) don't have to traffic-merge with the Northside terminal district congestion at all, only the GLX Union Branch at a junctioning point that has an extra couple service patterns' capacity to give. That makes the rapid transit modes work at up-to-6 min. bi-di frequency (2-1/2x better than the 15 min. that RR struggles to reach). And...as bonus...the achievable climbing grades can outright eliminate Mass Ave. crossing.
 

BeyondRevenue

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Federal preemption. It is illegal to zero it out with a MassDOT strongarm. MBTA, Amtrak, and CSX as co-rights holders must each file with the Surface Transportation Board for the abandonment of their rights; Keolis (for MBTA) and NNEPRA (for Downeaster) must co-file with the T and Amtrak. Then any parties affected by the extinguishing of the RR corridor--Everett Terminal owners & tenants, Pan Am; Cities of Boston/Cambridge/Somerville; Harvard, BU, MIT; all entities with vested interest in Urban Ring conversion--get chance to file support or opposing statements.

This is an impossible ask for the specific 'throat' project because the timetables don't match within an order of magnitude for the tight deadline we're on for a 'throat' decision. Doing the Urban Ring requires a lot of up-front mitigation/protection for alternate ops accommodation for the 3 primary rights holders, or else they won't oblige. Those mitigations need to be planned out years in advance while the UR is being re-studied and enacted during funded design. We aren't even at the starting gates for that, so there's absolutely no means of shuffling the deck to ensure all those details in time for locking down a new 'throat' option. You can't crayon a bunch of I.O.U.'s on a napkin to Amtrak and ask "can we delete the RR incline now, figure it out later" without that getting shot down immediately in a tsunami of adverse filings to the STB.

Further, because the Urban Ring includes West Station on its Harvard Branch, deleting the ramp or throwing it into total redesign confusion gets every UR proponent in the land--including Harvard--united in opposition to that STB docket because there's no time to substitute a designable alternate path from BU Bridge. Right now any future permutation of Urban Ring is guaranteed to West by using the Grand Junction's incumbent 2-track, 18 ft. vertical clearance, 1.5% grade RR ROW design baseline. The stet Grand Junction clearance specs are the fail-safe Urban Ring specs. You can mode-convert whenever you please at any future time and have that sure-thing West connection with these specs. Thus, none of the UR-supporting parties have any incentive to support an STB filing that expedites extinguishing the fail-safe RR clearances today in exchange for a bunch of squishier redesign TBD's yet to come. Crayon TBD's sans design certainty are a mortal threat to them, too, given the state's history of broken transit promises. There isn't enough time on the clock to sufficiently guarantee the TBD's for the Urban Ring contingent, either, so for a one-and-done STB filing they will be similarly united with the RR folks' adverse filings and make this attempt crash ever harder in front of the feds.


There's no solve for this now. If UR design kickoff were part of the overall trans-Allston makeover from Day 1 that would be a different story: we'd be years into these ancillary details that need their years of prereq planning for making the change-of-mode to the STB for the Grand Junction. Missed opportunity, whatever...but with limits to how bitterly-missed it could be given that UR compatibility is still 100% guaranteeable via the ruling RR specs. But that's not how it went: 'throat' is proceeding independently, Urban Ring study efforts have been sitting in a file cabinet for >15 years with no touches even at the paper level. There's no way to re-sync all this stuff within a same-decade overlap...and re-sync they must be in order to survive all that STB scrutiny.

With all the guarantees that must be doled out to every RR player and every Urban Ring advocate before proceeding with a RR landbank...you would have to hit pause on 'throat' designs for 8+ more years. "At-grade" is O-V-E-R if you do that...because then we're truly in a Hartford/I-84 quandry where the existing viaduct will need dozens of $M's in immediate in-situ patch repairs. Which means MassDOT is just going to roll forward with an in-situ full reconstruction because the cost chew of temp repairs to buy time becomes its own self-defeating resource drain. It ends up being mutually suicidal to everyone's more-perfect 'throat' designs.


Make no mistake...you can't alt-render a fix for this, because it's a function of time not space. The UR preliminaries + RR re-accomodations can't be sped into fewer years because they're such a pu-pu platter of disconnected individual moving parts only loosely waddable into an overall package. The STB decision to mode-change the RR has to be an all-at-once move; it doesn't compute with the timeframe for preliminaries yet to be started/planned. The 'throat' decision doesn't have years of time left to defer before patch repairs start draining resources and severely cutting into chances of all the non-viaduct perma-fixes. It has to be made NOW for at-grade anything to be in-play. None of these conflicting timetables can be zigzagged into straight-line plausibility. The range of now options has to be constrained to the timetables that fit. Grand Junction retouches aren't timetables that fit. Move on from that mission creep; there isn't a way forward getting hung up on that right now.
Thank you for the real-deal summary. As usual, I wish I had your knowledge. To me this at once the most fascinating spot in the city from a transportation infrastructure standpoint, and the biggest association of entrenched interest shitshowmanship I have ever seen. If only you had money or power. I think my city would be a better place for it.
 

Equilibria

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JumboBuc

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Postponed another year and becoming even more likely to be cancelled all together and replaced with just maintenance of the existing structure, which is without a doubt the worst possible outcome of the alternatives proposed.

I see this delay as MassDOT slowly coming around to accepting the at-grade design.

The project doesn't have financing either way, and with COVID that wasn't going to be resolved any time soon. Sorting out the finances will take much longer than a year. Given the financial uncertainty, is a one year delay in choosing a design even going to affect the overall timeline for project implementation?
 

Equilibria

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I see this delay as MassDOT slowly coming around to accepting the at-grade design.

The project doesn't have financing either way, and with COVID that wasn't going to be resolved any time soon. Sorting out the finances will take much longer than a year. Given the financial uncertainty, is a one year delay in choosing a design even going to affect the overall timeline for project implementation?
It doesn't have to. The delay is far less distressing to me than the apparent appetite from MassDOT directors (who don't live in or near Boston) to toss the project. Now would be a good moment for Governor Baker to meet with some folks from Harvard, BU, MassDOT, and Boston to provide some firm direction. He's completely delegated this to Pollack up til now.
 

Charlie_mta

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The project scope started out too broad and uncertain, opening up the door to endless quibbling and second-guessing. From the beginning, the scope should have narrow and consist only of: replace the viaduct and reconfigure the interchange to allow for street grid development and a rail station. That should have been it. Instead we've had years of crazy proposals that spawned endless nit-picking. Filling in the river will not be allowed by regulatory agencies and others. They should have kept it simple and just replace the viaduct and redevelop the interchange area.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I just can't believe this was the wormhole the whole thing got itself sucked down when quite frankly the carpocalypse crayon-draw street grid, self-alienating transit interface, and dereliction of duty to any sort of overarching density plan/commitment are way bigger red-flags for this area's lifetime viability than what structure rises or falls over a single 1300 ft. linear pinch point. At the end of the day the 'throat' still faces what's still majority BU rear loading docks...not exactly the stuff of obstructed views of Venus. I can't muster up as much concern for that comparative minority individual piece...as much as we all want the best for it...as I am dismayed about the rudderlessness of the whole fucking slab (see here, for instance).

I don't know...maybe staring at the whole of the Beacon Park abyss and all the Alewife-y bad stink vibes the formless planning was giving off in scores was just too foreboding for comprehension, so hitting ourselves with Nerf mallets in a padded room over 'throat' design one-upsmanship became the proxy fight in lieu of freaking out over the big picture. I definitely think there is quite very much to freak out about with that BP big picture, and what squander might be at stake from half-assed planning by indifferent institutions. It just seems to be psychological that all stakeholders have chosen to lay it all out in a 'throat' streetfight maybe because that one piece of substantively much lesser big-picture relevance was discrete enough to pick clean battle lines over...where we don't even know where to begin troubleshooting the institutional failures with the whole-enchilada BP. I've got the sinking feeling that the choice of that peculiar wormhole says something symbolic about how blinkered we've become as a City taking on transformational challenges head-on...and whatever that symbolism is it ain't pretty.
 

cden4

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The amount of time this project is taking is absurd, but it all could have been avoided if MassDOT had simply listened to the community in the first place and chosen an at-grade option early on. It's the cheapest option and provides the most flexibility for a future where Soldiers Field Rd doesn't exist or the Mass Pike is smaller. Viaducts are expensive to build and to maintain and lock you in to a particular configuration for 50+ years.
 

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