TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY Stephanie Pollack revised the state’s vision for 2040 on Monday, listing a rail connection between the Red Line and the Blue Line as a “next priority” and scrapping an earlier proposal to link the two lines with a pedestrian walkway.
The announcement was a huge victory for transit advocates and public officials who were dismissive of the pedestrian walkway and insisted the rail link was a Big Dig promise that had never been fulfilled.
A draft proposal for Focus 40 unveiled in June listed projects the T was working on currently, projects to be completed by 2040, and big ideas that could come to fruition sometime after 2040. The pedestrian walkway, connecting State Street on the Blue Line and Downtown Crossing on the Red Line, was listed as a project to be completed by 2040 and the rail link was listed as a big idea. Pollack’s decision moves the rail link into projects to be done by 2040.
A host of elected officials and transit advocates hailed Pollack’s decision, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo of Wintrop (via a letter), Rep. Adrian Madaro of East Boston (who backed the project and read the DeLeo letter), Sen. Brendan Crighton of Lynn, Boston City Councilors Michelle Wu and Lydia Edwards, and Boston Transportation Commission Gina Fiandaca.
But some of those supporting the decision said the region cannot wait until 2040 for the rail link. Fred Salvucci, an MIT professor and former secretary of transportation, urged the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board to launch immediately into a design-build procurement for the region. He warned that the link is desperately needed to provide greater access to Logan International Airport and to avoid the gridlock that is likely to ensue once Suffolk Downs is redeveloped.
Thomas O’Brien, the head of HYM Investment Group, the company redeveloping Suffolk Downs, said his project hopes to add 10,000 units of housing over the next decade and the new residents will need transit that can get them where they need to go.
“I can think of no other example of demand-side planning than this project,” he said.
Brian Lang, a member of the control board, had to leave the meeting early. Before he left — and before the board discussed the initiative — he said the state never should have abandoned the rail link between the Red and Blue lines. He urged his fellow members to approve funds to begin the work in 2019.
“We need to move on it. It’s not just a commitment. Let’s put it into action,” he said.
Pollack tried to temper the enthusiasm for quick action, saying the decision to make the Red-Blue rail connection a “next priority” was an “important step forward” but one that doesn’t guarantee resources will be made available for the project in the near term.
Ari Ofsevit, a transit advocate with TransitMatters, urged the board to think about trying to build the underground link between the two lines at the same time that Massachusetts General Hospital plans to build two new buildings on the hospital campus. He said it would make sense to tear up Cambridge Street once rather than multiple times. The MGH project is targeted for completion in 2026.
Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo said Suffolk Downs isn’t the only major development underway on the North Shore (he cited the Necco redevelopment and $750 million of private investment in the development pipeline in Revere), and the new residents will need an easier way to get to Cambridge and other locations along the Red Line. Currently, the Blue Line connects to the Green Line at Government Center; to get to Cambridge, riders have to take the Green Line to Park Street and connect to the Red Line.
“If you go to the top of the Wonderland Parking Garage, you can see Cambridge. You just can’t get there,” Arrigo said.
In addition to the Red-Blue rail connection, T officials said they plan to make a number of other changes to the Focus 40 vision, including a move away from diesel-only buses in favor of hybrid or zero-emission buses, extension of the Green Line extension another mile to the Mystic Valley Parkway, and an expansion of the number of priority places that will be the focus of transportation planning efforts.