A step forward for commuters (39 Responses)

2/11/2016 Update: Contract awarded.

On September 8, the state put out to bid a corridor study for Mount Auburn Street. This is the next step towards improving the permanent traffic snarl at the intersection of Mount Auburn Street and Fresh Pond Parkway. Reducing the long delays at this intersection is the biggest single thing we can do to improve bus service to Belmont and Watertown and it will help drivers as well.

The study scope includes all the signals along Mount Auburn Street from the Watertown line to Mount Auburn hospital and all the signals along Fresh Pond Parkway from Huron Avenue to the Eliot Bridge in Cambridge. The state Department of Conservation and Recreation is responsible for the maintenance of Fresh Pond Parkway and the river intersections and will be the lead agency in the study, but the study is a collaboration among the communities of Belmont, Watertown and Cambridge and several state agencies, including the MBTA.

The study goals are “to improve the safety, comfort and operations of all modes of transportation that use the areas included in the study.” Particular priorities within those broad goals include improving service on the 71 and 73 buses and making the wide main intersection safer for cyclists and pedestrians. The study will assess existing conditions — delays, hazards, etc. — and propose options for short and long term improvement.

The idea for the study goes back to a meeting convened by local legislators 18 months ago in Cambridge. The meeting included engineering representatives from all the communities and agencies involved. It was an exciting meeting because, although some of the engineers had been in place for many years, none of them could remember a conversation about how to address this intersection system. Typically in traffic conversations, appealing ideas get shot down quickly with “we looked at that before and it won’t work”. Instead, as the conversation moved around the room, many ideas surfaced that seemed to all merit further study.

The timing was good because a transportation bond bill was moving and local legislators working together — myself, Senator Jehlen, Representative Hecht and Representative Rogers — were able to earmark $500,000 to study the options. The Patrick administration supported the project and made the earmarked funds available to DCR. The Baker administration picked up the ball and developed the formal study scope — consulting with the municipalities and other agencies — and put it out to bid. The retirement of key DCR personnel created some delays, but the new DCR Commissioner, Carol Sanchez, promised to keep the process moving and has been true to her word.

The next steps in the process will be as follows: (1) There will be a pre-bidding conference for prospective bidders on September 23. (2) The bids must be submitted by October 16 at 5PM. (3) DCR will evaluate the bids (based not only on price but also qualifications, experience of the bid team and overall quality of the proposal) and award the contract near the end of October. (4) The study will begin in mid November and there will be kickoff meeting with key stakeholders. (5) It is expected that the study will take one to two years.

Representatives Hecht and Rogers and Senators Jehlen and I are committed to assuring that the study is conducted in a transparent way and brought to a useful conclusion and also that the Commonwealth moves forward to take action on the positive recommendations of the study.

The formal study process won’t start for a couple of months. But it’s not too early to start brainstorming in this space — your comments much appreciated.

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    Will Brownsberger
    State Senator
    2d Suffolk and Middlesex District