More Transit-Oriented Parking Is Coming To South Station

Is a parking garage an "amenity" if its users have to stuff their motor vehicles into the gridlocked heart of one of Boston's worst traffic bottlenecks?

The base of a proposed new skyscraper above South Station would sit atop a foundation of arches suspended over the station's commuter rail platform. Architectural rendering courtesy of the MBTA.
The base of a proposed new skyscraper above South Station would sit atop a foundation of arches suspended over the station's commuter rail platform. Architectural rendering courtesy of the MBTA.

A skyscraper project originally approved during the George W. Bush administration is finally going under construction this winter, and true to its origins from a time before the term “climate emergency” existed, the project’s developers will spend millions of dollars to suspend 527 more parking stalls above New England’s busiest transit hub.

The “South Station air rights project” is being built by Hines, a Houston-based developer, under a deal negotiated with the state, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), and the MBTA, which own the tracks over which the mixed-use tower and parking garage will be built.

The project will build a 51-story tower perched on a dramatic base of archways (pictured above) that will span the area between the South Station terminal and its commuter rail platforms. The rest of the platforms, which are currently partially exposed to the sky, will be covered by a deck to hold an expanded intercity bus terminal and a multi-level parking garage.

The current project was originally proposed and approved in 2006, before the great recession. A decade later, in 2016, the proposal was revised to add additional residential space – and add more parking.

At the time, Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, submitted a letter urging the state to reduce the number of parking spaces on the site.

“As a high density Transit Oriented Development, the South Station Air Rights project has the potential to advance (the state’s) transportation and greenhouse gas goals,’ wrote Draisen. “However, as currently proposed, the increased number of parking spaces and overall parking program is likely to make all of these goals more difficult to achieve.”

That warning went unheeded, and BPDA planners approved the project in December 2016.

MassDOT, which also signed off on the project, declined to respond to queries about why the agency approved of the parking plan, or whether the agency believes that the interstate ramps and surface roads surrounding South Station can realistically accommodate 527 additional peak-hour motor vehicle trips from users of the new garage.

That additional traffic can be expected to add even more tailpipe pollution to the air in the Leather District and Chinatown, a neighborhood that already suffers with some of the worst air pollution in the state.

In an emailed statement, David Perry, Senior Managing Director at Hines, admitted that his company fully expects hundreds of the new tower’s tenants to pile their vehicles into the gridlocked lanes of the area’s streets and highway tunnels, instead of utilizing the site’s excellent transit access.
“The direct access between the parking garage at South Station and the Mass Pike, Ted Williams Tunnel and Southeast Expressway make this location uniquely well-suited for a parking facility, without the commensurate traffic burden on city streets,” asserted Perry.
The new garage would have two points of access: one leading to the South Station Connector viaduct, which links directly to I-93 south of downtown, and another driveway that will lead directly onto Atlantic Avenue, pictured in this viral tweet from a typical afternoon rush hour in May 2019:

Plans for future phases of the project could add up to 368 additional parking spaces to the block. However, developers haven’t yet secured all the approvals they need from the BPDA to build those additional parking areas.

“Before Phase II and III move forward the BPDA and BTD (Boston Transportation Department) will work with the state to conduct additional traffic studies and determine appropriate mitigation,” wrote Molly McGlynn, a BPDA spokesperson, in an emailed statement.

The current phase of construction for the South Station tower and bus terminal expansion is expected to be a four-year project, and while train schedules aren’t expected to be impacted, commuter rail riders will begin to notice new construction fencing going up around sections of the station’s boarding platforms in the coming months. The state has set up a website, https://southstationairrights.com, to provide commuters with construction updates.

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