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Among Elected Officials, A Strong Consensus Against I-90 Viaduct On the Charles River

10:50 AM EST on November 6, 2020

A bicyclist rides along the Paul Dudley White Path along Soldiers Field Road and the Massachusetts Turnpike viaduct on Sept. 11, 2019.

Elected leaders and local officials appear to be united in their preference for a new "at-grade" design for the Massachusetts Turnpike in the state's Allston Multimodal Project, according to public letters submitted for the project's National Environmental Policy Act review.

MassDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are currently in the process of selecting a "preferred alternative" – a conceptual design that will be carried forward into a more detailed design and permitting process.

One possible alternative being considered would essentially re-build the existing Turnpike viaduct in place; another, more recent alternative – the "modified all at-grade" option – would narrow the footprints of the highways to fit the project at ground-level.

In public comment letters submitted last week, advocates, city officials, and state legislators all stated a strong preference for the "at-grade" option.

A quick rundown of their arguments (click the links to read the letters in full):

MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack and other MassDOT officials have expressed some notes of skepticism against the "at-grade" design in some public meetings, noting that it would impact the Charles River more than the viaduct option (for instance, by putting the Paul Dudley White pathway on a boardwalk over the river).

That could "result in more impacts to wetlands and waterways resources, and have a greater potential to delay the implementation schedule of the project in order to obtain needed permits," warned Mike O'Dowd, the project manager for MassDOT.

The "at grade" option would also take the Grand Junction rail line – currently the MBTA's primary route for moving commuter rail trains from south of the Charles River to its maintenance facility in East Somerville – out of service for several years of construction. MassDOT says that would force the T to build a new $300 million maintenance facility for its south-side commuter rail lines.

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