Transportation guru Fred Salvucci said on the Codcast that the proposed West Station is needed now to deal with congestion in Kenmore Square and the Seaport District, not future congestion caused by Harvard University’s creation of a new neighborhood in the Allston Landing area.
Salvucci’s position is sharply at odds with the views of the Baker administration, which believes current ridership projections for the station are too low to justify building West Station in the near future. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack has said it would be wise to hold off on West Station until around 2040 when Harvard’s development plans for the area are more fully formulated.
But Salvucci, who served 12 years as state transportation secretary under former governor Michael Dukakis and now teaches at MIT, said the transit connections offered by West Station are needed now to relieve existing congestion on the Massachusetts Turnpike.
“I’m urging that we look not at the future demand but at the demand that’s identifiable right now in Kendall Square and the Innovation District [also known as the Seaport District]. And there’s plenty of people who need better options than being stuck on the Turnpike,” Salvucci said.
West Station is a small piece of a much bigger project to straighten the Turnpike in the Allston-Brighton area and replace a crumbling elevated section of the highway near Boston University. Salvucci said the current debate about West Station is an opportunity to correct mistakes made when the Turnpike was originally built, splitting apart neighborhoods and eliminating four rail stations and one line of track.
“The community paid a big price with the loss of housing and disruption of the community,” Salvucci told Josh Fairchild and Jim Aloisi of TransitMatters. “My grandmother lived in one of those houses. It was my first exposure to the brutality of the way transportation was being done at the time.”
Over time, the Turnpike has filled with cars, and Salvucci said the congestion has prompted many drivers to get off the road and spill into the neighborhoods in order to find a quicker path to wherever they are going. With the rapid growth of Kendall Square and the Seaport District, Salvucci said, West Station is needed to ease some of the pressure on the Turnpike by getting drivers commuting to those locations out of their cars and on to public transit. He said the so-called Grand Junction Line could be used to transport passengers coming from west of Boston to Kendall Square.
“The demand is there. It’s not a theoretical thing. You can count the building permits,” he said. “Those commuters are coming and there’s no space for them on the Turnpike.”
Salvucci also addressed a number of other transit issues. Here’s a small sampling:
Seaport District — Salvucci said Silver Line service within the Seaport District could improve if the buses didn’t have to stop where they come out of the tunnel from South Station at D Street and if they could use a ramp that leads down into the Ted Williams Tunnel that is currently reserved only for State Police and maintenance vehicles.
Salvucci said a tunnel under D Street should be built and Silver Line buses should use the ramp. He said both initiatives were part of original plans for the area. He noted the environmental impact statement for Silver Line service to Logan International Airport assumed the ramp would be used for the buses. “That’s the way it was planned,” he said.
“People are talking about self-driving cars and they’re acting like they can’t figure out how to get a bus down a ramp on to a highway,” he said. “It’s bizarre. We’ve just got to get out of this land-of-a -1,000-excuses mentality and say we’ve got to fix these things.”
Salvucci also noted the original plan for the Silver Line was to eventually replace the buses with light rail vehicles, with tracks connecting the line to the Chinatown Station on the Orange Line and the Green Line near Boylston Station. He said the planning for the conversion to light rail was well underway when the Romney administration killed it. “I think it was criminal,” he said.
Congestion pricing – Salvucci doesn’t like the idea of charging drivers more for using roadways at peak travel periods unless viable, high-quality transit is available as an alternative.
“All congestion pricing does is decide the lucky few who get to use the capacity that’s there,” he said, meaning those who can afford to use the roads will. But he said congestion pricing can work if a viable transit alternative can work. He said discussions in Boston about congestion pricing are out of sequence — the transit improvements must happen before congestion pricing is implemented.
Uber/Lyft — Salvucci isn’t a fan of ride-hailing apps for a variety of reasons.
Personally, he won’t use them because the companies don’t provide health care to their drivers.
Professionally, he is concerned about how Uber and Lyft are pulling riders away from public transit, particularly buses, and adding to congestion on the roads – all with a business model that’s unsustainable. He said each ride-hailing trip receives a $2 to $3 subsidy from the app’s investors, suggesting the subsidies won’t go on forever. “There’s no basis to believe [ride-hailing apps are] going to be there 10 years from now,” he said.