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Legal Settlement Will Restore Carpool Lane and Add New Bus Lane on Tobin Bridge

Chelsea bus lane installation on Broadway

Workers lay down red pavement markings for new bus lanes on Broadway in downtown Chelsea in October 2020. Photo courtesy of the MBTA.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has committed to establishing a new bus lanes on the Tobin Bridge and I-93 as part of a legal settlement over its decision to eliminate a carpool lane on I-93 in the spring of 2019.

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), a Boston-based environmental group, filed an intent to sue MassDOT in October 2019 over the agency's decision to let single-occupant vehicles into a transit and carpool lane on Interstate 93 north of Boston earlier that year.

The carpool lane had been part of a suite of transit improvements – along with the construction of the Silver Line, and an unfulfilled promise to connect the Red and Blue Lines in downtown Boston – that the environmental group and the state had negotiated as mitigation for the “Big Dig” project in 1990.

But MassDOT opened the carpool lane to all traffic on May 14, 2019, allegedly to make room for single-occupant vehicle drivers using I-93 to avoid a major ongoing construction project on Route 1 and the Tobin Bridge.

Last October, when the CLF first filed its intent to sue, CLF Senior Attorney Staci Rubin told StreetsblogMASS that “we’re interested in reinstating the HOV lane as soon as possible, but we’re also looking for a broader approach, and getting the state take a look at making connections to public transit and other options that make sense for more people.”

In this week's settlement, MassDOT agreed to take that broader approach, in adddition to reinstating the carpool lane. The settlement's commitments include:

    • A pilot bus-only lane on the southbound deck of the Tobin Bridge, which would benefit riders of the 111 bus to Chelsea, one of the T's busiest bus routes;
    • A pilot project to allow buses on I-93 to drive on the shoulder lane between Woburn and Somerville;
    • A study of future locations within the metropolitan area I-495 area for other bus and carpool lanes, and a study of possible congestion pricing and tolls on major highways, with collaboration from environmental justice communities.

“This settlement represents a significant victory for our communities,” said Maria Belen Power, Associate Executive Director of GreenRoots in Chelsea, in a CLF press release. “We are particularly thrilled by MassDOT’s commitment to invest in a bus lane pilot on the Tobin Bridge. We expect the pilot to last at least one year followed by a permanent lane. We know it will be successful!”

The Tobin Bridge bus lane will also complement other bus lanes that have been recently painted in downtown Chelsea.

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