Everything You Need to Know About the Longfellow Bridge Rehabilitation Project

Curb cuts, median removals, and traffic mitigation have already begun on the Longfellow Bridge rehabilitation project. The project is extremely complex, involving the reconstruction of a century-old bridge and the brick-by-brick refurbishing of its iconic salt-and-pepper-shaker stone towers. Over the next three years, construction on the Longfellow is going to have a major effect on how all of us get around town. With that in mind, I’ll do my best to keep you up to date through this blog, and to answer some common questions.

Last night, MassDOT held a public meeting regarding the project in general and traffic detours specifically. You can see the presentation from last night’s meeting here. As you might expect, there’s a lot of information in that presentation, so I’ll try to highlight the key points:

  • Red Line train service will be replaced by buses running from Kendall to MGH and Park St. on five weekends in 2013: August 10-11, August 24-25, October 19-20, October 26-27, and November 2-3. During these weekends, the Longfellow’s cycle lanes will be closed to accommodate two-way bus traffic, and traffic patterns around the bridge will change significantly. To receive real-time updates and alerts about Red Line service by phone or email, sign up for the MBTA’s Rider Alerts. There are a total of 25 planned “weekend diversions” over the project’s three-year lifespan.
  • The project includes several features to make the Boston and Cambridge sides of the bridge more pedestrian-friendly, including a new footbridge connecting the Longfellow to the paths on Memorial Drive.
  • The first phase of construction requires closing the western lanes of the bridge. Boston-to Cambridge traffic will be detoured until September of next year. You can find a full-color map of the detour on page 18 of MassDOT’s presentation.
  • Striping of new lanes on the Craigie Bridge/Charles River Dam Rd. begins this Saturday.
  • MassDOT and the project’s contractors will be intensely monitoring data from the first two weeks under the new traffic patterns, and will make adjustments as appropriate.

MassDOT is operating a dedicated hotline for comments and concerns related to the Longfellow project, and they intend to answer every call within two hours. You can reach MassDOT’s hotline at (617)-519-9892, or just send them an email at longfellowbridge@state.ma.us. MassDOT’s Stephanie Boundy is also keeping neighbors up-to-speed with regular email blasts. Over 700 people receive these helpful email alerts now, and you can sign up by contacting Stephanie at (857)-368-8904 or stephanie.boundy@state.ma.us.

Major Traffic Changes on Longfellow Bridge Expected to Last Until September 2014

Cambridge-bound traffic will be rerouted to the Craigie Bridge and Land Boulevard during the Longfellow Bridge's rehabilitation. Image via MassDOT.

Cambridge-bound traffic will be rerouted to the Craigie Bridge and Land Boulevard during the Longfellow Bridge’s rehabilitation. Image via MassDOT.

Beginning July 20, traffic patterns on the Longfellow Bridge will be dramatically changed to accommodate construction on the 107-year-old structure. The new traffic patterns will only affect motorists: cyclists and pedestrians will continue to be able to cross the bridge in both directions. The new traffic patterns are expected to persist until September 2014.  Click here to see a larger map of the new traffic patterns.

Boston-bound traffic will be reduced to one lane, while Cambridge-bound traffic will be diverted to the Craigie Bridge. You can learn more about the project and traffic changes at tomorrow night’s public meeting at MIT.

Medford St. in Somerville to Close for Three Weeks

Beginning this Friday, as part of Phase I construction of the Green Line Extension, Medford St. between McGrath Highway and Ward St. in Somerville will be closed for three weeks. This closure is expected to create significant traffic impacts, and you can learn more about detours here.

A map of the detour routes is below. As always, if you have any questions, you can email info@glxinfo.com or contact the Green Line Extension Project at 855-GLX-INFO (855-459-4636).

Detours for the Medford St. bridge construction. Image via MassDOT.

Detours for the Medford St. bridge construction. Image via MassDOT.

Learn More About the Longfellow Bridge Construction

An aerial view of the Longfellow Bridge. The 107-year-old structure is undergoing major repairs beginning this summer. Image via MassDOT.

An aerial view of the Longfellow Bridge. The 107-year-old structure is undergoing major repairs beginning this summer. Image via MassDOT.

With rehabilitation of the historic Longfellow Bridge set to begin soon, MassDOT invites neighbors to attend one of two meetings in East Cambridge:

  • Monday, July 1, 6pm — Cambridge Police Headquarters (125 6th St.)
  • Wednesday, July 10, 7pm — MIT Building E 25, Room 111 (45 Carleton St.)

Representatives from both MassDOT and the bridge’s construction company will be in attendance to answer questions about traffic changes, pedestrian and cyclist access, Red Line service, and more. MassDOT will present their plans and then open up a question-and-answer session with the public. If you live or work nearby, or if you regularly use the Longfellow, I encourage you to attend.

A Big Step Forward for the Community Path

A map of some of the existing and proposed multi-use paths in Greater Boston. Image via Friends of the Community Path.

A map of some of the existing and proposed multi-use paths in Greater Boston. Image via Friends of the Community Path.

Those of us who have supported the construction of the Community Path along with the Green Line Extension (GLX) recently received some really good news. At issue was the question of what’s known as “the Fitchburg crossing,” the section of Somerville in which the GLX will bridge the Fitchburg Commuter Rail line. At a meeting last week in Medford, we were delighted to learn that MassDOT has committed to designing a way for the Community Path to bridge this gap and connect Somerville with North Point in Cambridge. This is an exciting announcement for a number of reasons.

Designing the Fitchburg Crossing section of the Community Path means that we are closer to seeing a single, continuous mixed-use path stretching from central Somerville to the Charles. Moreover, since the Community Path will run without breaks for rail or street crossings, the larger regional network of mixed-use paths—including the proposed Grand Junction Rail Trail—will finally be seamless. The Community Path is the critical link between paths on the Charles, like the Esplanade, and the eleven-mile-long Minuteman Commuter Bikeway. With the new design of the Community Path at the Fitchburg crossing, a commuter living in Bedford can get to work in North Point without ever leaving a designated bike path, and families living in Cambridge and Somerville can cycle safely to Lexington Common for a picnic.

I want to thank Governor Patrick, Secretary Davy, and the staff at MassDOT and the MBTA for seeing the long-term value in designing a complete community path. They have shown a commitment to listening to and engaging with the many advocates, residents, and neighbors who want to see the Green Line Extension and Community Path be the kind of projects that we can all be proud of. There’s still lots of work to be done on this project, but last night, we took an important step forward.

Tonight: Public Meeting on Ethanol Traveling Through Our Communities

A map of the proposed ethanol transportation routes. Image via MassDOT.

A map of the proposed ethanol transportation routes. Image via MassDOT.

MassDOT is undertaking a study of the feasibility of transporting ethanol by rail through several Greater Boston communities, including Somerville and Cambridge. The next public meeting is scheduled for tonight, March 11, from 6:30-8:30pm at the Argenziano School in Somerville (290 Washington St.).

I encourage you to attend tonight’s public meeting to share your perspective and to learn more about the proposals put forward by MassDOT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact my office.

Longfellow Bridge Construction to Begin This Summer

An artist's rendering of the revitalized Longfellow Bridge. Image via MassDOT.

An artist’s rendering of the revitalized Longfellow Bridge. Image via MassDOT.

It’s one of the signature architectural elements connecting Cambridge and Boston—and it’s finally getting some much-needed TLC.

The Longfellow Bridge was built in 1906, and in its 107 years, it’s only been repaired twice. The bridge carries not only pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists, but also Red Line trains connecting North Cambridge to downtown Boston, Quincy, Mattapan, and more. It is a critical thread in the fabric of our larger community, and I’m absolutely thrilled to hear MassDOT’s announcement.

I see the final design as emblematic of what government and community leaders can do when they work together. The project will cost $255 million over the next three years, eighty percent of which will be paid for by the federal government, and the final agreement includes measures to hold construction companies responsible for keeping the project on track and on time.  The new bridge will be even more pedestrian-and-cyclist friendly and the Longfellow’s gorgeous views of the Charles River Basin will remain unchanged. The big change will be for motorists, as outbound traffic will be confined to one lane to make room for pedestrians and cyclists.

Needless to say, this will be a big, complex project: MassDOT will keep the Red Line running by laying temporary tracks during construction, but on 25 weekends over the next three years, shuttle buses will replace Red Line trains between Charles/MGH and Kendall Square (there are no scheduled weekday service disruptions). Some motorists will be diverted to the Craigie Bridge during the construction. But this is a small price to pay in order to safeguard both an important piece of infrastructure and a part of our cultural heritage.

Before the Longfellow Bridge, there was the West Boston Bridge, which inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write a poem. The final lines of that poem still ring true, 168 years after they were written:

Yet whenever I cross the river
   On its bridge with wooden piers,
Like the odor of brine from the ocean
   Comes the thought of other years.

And I think how many thousands
   Of care-encumbered men,
Each bearing his burden of sorrow,
   Have crossed the bridge since then.

I see the long procession
   Still passing to and fro,
The young heart hot and restless,
   And the old subdued and slow!

And forever and forever,
   As long as the river flows,
As long as the heart has passions,
   As long as life has woes;

The moon and its broken reflection
   And its shadows shall appear,
As the symbol of love in heaven,
   And its wavering image here.

Changes to MassDOT’s Community Transit Grant Program

MassDOT’s Community Transit Grant Program is undergoing some important changes. The program allows organizations to apply for funding to better serve low-income, elderly, and disabled individuals, and the Department of Transportation wants everyone to be aware of the changes, including a migration to an online application.

What sort of changes? That’s a little complex for a single blog post, but that’s why MassDOT is holding training sessions throughout the state. Residents of Cambridge and Somerville should attend an informational meeting on January 31, from 10am-11:30am in Suite 2150 of the State Transportation Building (10 Park Plaza, Boston).

You can find application guidelines and the application itself here, and all applications must be received by 5pm on March 1, 2013. If you wish to apply for a grant but are unable to attend a training session, please contact Kyle J. Emge at 857-368-9555. One additional web-based training session will be provided for applicants that are unable to attend one of the three scheduled sessions.

MBTA Fare Increase Displays Need For Lasting Reforms

By now, most people who ride the T have heard about the possibility that fares will be increased and service will be cut.

Let me begin by saying that nobody is happy about this. There are systemic problems with the way that the MBTA is funded that have slowly plunged its budget into crisis. After years of creative fixes by MBTA and Massachusetts Department of Transportation officials, MBTA riders are now being asked to help close the T’s budget gap.

In January, the MBTA proposed two possible plans to raise fares and cut service. Proposal 1 relied primarily upon fare increases to close the budget gap. Proposal 2 relied upon service cuts. Both proposals would have drastically cut commuter rail and ferry service.

MassDOT and the MBTA then held 25 public meetings and a handful of hearings to gather input on the proposals from residents. The public meetings that were held attracted a total of 5,800 attendees, a record according to MassDOT. Many will remember that the meeting held at Cambridge City Hall was overflowing with people. Of those who reached out to the T, 80% opposed reductions in service and 24% opposed fare increases.

Since the conclusion of the public meetings, MassDOT and the MBTA have been able to find a number of places in their finances where they will be able to reduce their budget deficit. While these are not permanent solutions, they are important short-term fixes. These include the transfer of snow and ice removal surplus to the MBTA, the reduction of debt service payments, and the decision by the Executive Office of Administration and Finance  to allow the MBTA to use its offices in 10 Park Plaza rent-free this year.

Among these deficit-reduction measures are a number of fixes that will require immediate legislative action.  These include transferring funds from the Massachusetts vehicle inspection trust fund (a fund which sets aside inspection fees for efforts to reduce air pollution), and seeking $5 million in reimbursements from Medicaid for services offered by the RIDE.

These proposed solutions will reduce the T’s deficit from $159 million to $84 million. This deficit reduction has allowed the MBTA to propose a third, alternative scenario to the two it proposed in January.

Under this proposal, which was announced on Wednesday, fares will increase 23% overall. These changes would require subway riders to pay $2 instead of $1.70, and bus riders to pay $1.50 instead of $1.25. A monthly bus pass will increase from $40 to $48, and a LinkPass (monthly bus and subway pass) will increase from $59 to $70.

While the fare increases under this plan are steep, they are less than the proposed fare increases in either of the proposals that the T released in January. The number of cuts to service has also been drastically reduced from that found in proposals 1 and 2. The MBTA estimated that were it to implement proposal 1, roughly 9.2 million trips would be lost per year. Under proposal 2, which focused on cuts to local and suburban bus service, the T estimated that 37 million trips would be lost. Under the scenario that was released yesterday, 1.2 million trips, or .3% of the total number of annual trips, would be lost.

The service reductions that this proposal includes will cut four bus routes and weekend commuter rail service on the three lines that are have the lowest ridership. There will be no cuts to service in Cambridge or Somerville.

This is clearly better than what was proposed initially, and I applaud the T for considering customer input and returning to the drawing board to find a better solution.

With that said, I understand and empathize with the thousands of people in the MBTA service area whose lives will be made harder. There will be an impact on the environment from more cars on the road. Our efforts to encourage the use of public transit will be hurt. Economic development, which is dependent on the ability of residents to traverse the region, will suffer.

And there can be no question about it: for many people who ride the T, a fare increase will be one more hardship for them in an economy that has been harsh and unforgiving for many years. Massachusetts may be recovering faster than other states, but that fact is little comfort to those who are struggling.

The next step is for the legislature to find a comprehensive, long-term funding solution for the MBTA that will be adequate and sustainable for years and decades to come.

This solution must include changes to the debts that are currently on the MBTA’s balance sheet. Among these debts is what is often referred to as the T’s “big dig debt”. This debt was incurred by the MBTA to construct various transit improvements that were required as environmental mitigation for the central artery project. These mitigation projects really don’t belong on the T’s balance sheet, and moving them off would save the T $100 million in debt service payments every year.

Any legislative solution must also include new revenue for the MBTA that does not come out of the pockets of the people who need public transit the most. I have been a long time supporter of a graduated income tax policy in Massachusetts that puts more money in the pockets of the people who need it. Working-class people will continue to struggle until everyone pays their fair share. Transitioning to a more progressive tax policy would provide more funding for not only the T, but for all of the essential state services that are being constantly scaled back in the face of budget deficits.

As the conversation continues, I will remain one of the strongest voices in the legislature for the interests of T riders. I am disappointed that the T’s budget problems have not been addressed sooner. I am saddened that it has come to raising fares in order for the T to pay its bills. The reality of the situation is that right now, raising fares is necessary. I think my colleagues in the state house would agree, however, that we can’t wait to pass legislation that will make it unnecessary to raise fares again for many years to come.

Next Week: Transportation Day on the Hill

Tuesday, January 31st will be MassDOT’s Transportation Day on the Hill. This will be a great opportunity to meet and ask questions of MassDOT’s top officials, get a fast-lane pass for your car, and learn about wide range of services that MassDOT offers residents. Please see the invite below for more information:

Secretary Richard A. Davey cordially invites you to MassDOT’s Transportation Day on the Hill on Tuesday, January 31st at 1 pm in Nurse’s Hall at the State House, Boston. At this event, MassDOT will host interactive tables where a number of transportation-related services will be offered and we would like to encourage each of you to invite your constituents and community members to attend this important event.

Senior MassDOT Officials will be present to answer questions and concerns from you, your staff, your constituents and the general public. Each Administrator will make a brief presentation at the beginning of our Day on the Hill and will be available to help resolve your inquiries in person. Agency Staff will also help guide you and your constituents through a wealth of information and direct you to MassDOT resources that will aid in helping answer constituent questions in the future.
Some of the services we will offer at this event include:
  • Free Fast-Lane Passes
  • Registration Renewal and RMV Online Services
  • Sign-up for MBTA Alerts
  • Guidance for Downloading MBTA Smartphone Applications
  • Information on City of Boston Meter Cards
  • Free MassDOT Tourism Maps
  • “Drive Smart and Save” Initiative
  • Information on our award-winning Accelerated Bridge Program that is creating thousands of construction jobs in the Commonwealth
  • See how MassDOT works with local schools in the Massachusetts Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program
  • Information about NuRide, the nation’s largest reward program for individual’s who take greener trips.
Officials from MassDOT, including staff from the MBTA, Highway Division, RMV and Aeronautics will be available to answer any specific questions you may have. The following MassDOT officials will be present and available to you during this important event:
Secretary and CEO Richard A. Davey
Highway Administrator Frank DePoala
Acting General Manager Jonathan Davis
Registrar of Motor Vehicles Rachel Kaprielian
Aeronautics Administrator Christopher Willenborg
Acting MassPort CEO David Mackey

We hope that you, your staff and constituents will be able to attend. MassDOT has prepared some valuable information on transportation related services that we know will be useful to you and your staff and we encourage you to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity. 
We look forward to seeing you there.