By Adam Swift
It’s still in the early stages, but MassDOT is coming to the end of a study on the best use of the inactive rail line corridor along Rte. 1A and Chelsea Creek.
MassDOT held an online forum last week to discuss two potential alternatives for the corridor stretching from Day Square in East Boston to Bell Circle in Revere. The first alternative is a shared use path for bicycles and pedestrians along the MBTA right of way, and the second is a shared use path combined with a bypass road that could be used by authorized truck traffic.
“Back in 2019, there was a lease proposal that was before the MassDOT board to use an inactive rail line running along the Chelsea Creek, and based on feedback we received at that public meeting, MassDOT did not lease the parcels,” said MassDOT project manager Ethan Britland. “Instead, they initiated the study to look at the rail parcels from a transportation perspective for what could be done in the corridor.”
That study should be completed by the end of January, according to Britland.
Once the study is completed, Britland said any further action will depend on the will of the community and stakeholders to move forward and funding for the alternatives.
The two alternatives would both connect into the Mary Ellen Welch Greenway at its southern end and travel to Bell Circle in Revere to the north.
The bypass road alternative would see the road end at Tomasello Way, and have just a shared use path to Bell Circle.
Brittland said the goal with either alternative is to increase safety, provide environmental benefits, and address equity issues in the communities it travels through.
While Britland said there are not a lot of good connections for the path to connect to once it gets to Bell Circle.
“We just wanted to try to bring the shared use path as far as possible,” he said. “We often build pieces in segments and connect later, and also, along the shared use path, we do assume that Suffolk Downs will be building out a lot of their infrastructure. There are opportunities in the future to potentially connect into whatever Suffolk Downs is going to do.”
Ned Codd, a consultant on the study, said both alternatives were evaluated relative to the major categories of safety, connectivity, resilience, and equity.
“We also looked at the feasibility of the alternatives relative to the cost and permitting challenges,” said Codd.
Codd said both of the alternatives would raise the level of the water’s edge to 16 feet above existing mean sea level to address 2070 projections for sea level rise and storm surge. However, he said the shared use-only alternative would create more park and green space.
“Relative to connectivity and vehicular access and mobility, the principal feature of alternative two is the provision of a two-lane bypass road that we have assumed is limited to authorized vehicles only, including heavy trucks,” said Codd.
That bypass road would provide a more reliable connection for some trucks traveling to and from Logan Airport.
“This bypass road would be less subject to congestion and variabilities in travel time and would be more reliable and faster than a highway connection, mostly during peak periods in the peak-demand direction,” Codd said.
Estimates show the bypass road would carry roughly 42 to 67 trucks in each direction during peak hours. That number represents about 35 percent of the Rte. 1A current truck traffic, and about 2 percent of total traffic, Codd said.
The bypass alternative also provides potential future access for public transportation.
Both alternatives would improve safety, although Codd said the second alternative would create pedestrian and bike conflicts with the traffic from trucks on the bypass route nearby.
When it comes to equity, Codd said the first alternative would be better for path users since users would be separated from all truck and vehicle traffic. The second alternative, he said, would benefit East Boston residents by taking more truck traffic off Rte. 1A.
“Both alternatives provide better neighborhood connections for environmental justice communities, but alternative one (shared use path only) would provide better recreation and access to natural resources for environmental justice communities.”
The shared use path would have a lower capital cost, coming in at roughly $71 million, while the path with the bypass road would have a price tag about 50 percent higher at $106 million.