TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY POLLACK OUTLINES MBTA AND HIGHWAY PROGRESS
Addresses MassEcon’s Annual Holiday Lunch and Board of Directors Meeting
BOSTON – Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack said yesterday that MassDot and the MBTA “are in the business of economic development” and have developed close working relationships with cities, towns, and other state agencies to apply the resources available toward helping people get to work.
“We need to think in terms of partnerships,” Pollack told more than 100 business people and members of MassEcon from across the Commonwealth at a luncheon address following its annual meeting. “We will try to help you by funding your priorities.”
Pollack said state transportation officials work in support of five stated goals of the Baker-Polito Adminstration: building a 21st-Century transportation system, economic development, foster housing especially in transit corridors, getting workers to their jobs, and making regional transportation connections.
“It takes time to figure out figure out what investments to make … we’re doing that,” Pollack said. She said the MBTA has $1 billion in work under way in “essentially rebuilding the Red Line,” which will result in a 50 percent increase in capacity. Orange Line capacity will increase 40 percent, Pollack said.
Housing, including affordable units, is being built on MBTA land at two locations on the Red Line in Quincy; the Green Line extension project was rebid and revised so it can still add seven new stations but save about $1 billion from previous cost estimates; and a Route 128 add-a-lane program that Pollack said had taken “forever” is finally being completed, with a new interchange in Needham. “It really has made a big difference to that job cluster,” she said.
The draft of a broad “Focus ‘40” transportation study being undertaken by the Baker administration will be completed in January, Pollack said, covering most of the state’s transportation grid, though what to do with the complex commuter-rail network will be addressed in a separate study. “It’s the hardest to figure out,” she said, currently being underutilized but possibly, in a future with driverless cars and further innovations like Uber, becoming obsolete.
Pollack said with the expenditure of less than $20 million the state’s number of communities with “complete streets” plans has gone from 14 to 150, meaning “it’s safe and feels safe for everybody – a simple but powerful idea.” She said in 2017 the Massachusetts Highway Department is spending $1 billion to repair 386 bridges in more than 100 communities.
The intersection of Route 495 and the Massachusetts Turnpike, which is heavily used by trucks carrying freight, will be reconfigured so it will also allow better access to much undeveloped land in that part of the state, Pollack said.
Pollack cautioned that not all projects can be done at once, given the state’s “not infinite… but considerable” resources. And simultaneous work on the Tobin Bridge and the North Washington Bridge in the near future will result in some headaches, she said.
Addressing problems like congestion in the Seaport, she said, “We are much more likely to ‘smart’ our way out of traffic congestion than we are to build our way out.” A $5 million program to coordinate traffic signals is a promising example, she said.
The Annual Holiday Lunch was sponsored by VHB, the planning, engineering, and design firm based in Watertown.
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