With the arrival of cooler weather, thoughts are turning to the coming winter and avoiding a repetition of last year’s transportation woes, especially on the MBTA.
The Baker Administration and the legislature did a lot of work on that issue this spring and summer and overall the results were good – a strong MBTA budget (with substantial investments in storm readiness) and new authority and tools for the Governor to make good on his pledge to fix the T.
But as important as it is to fix what we already have, meeting the transportation needs of our area will require much more. Rapid development, changing demographics, and climate change mean we need to think creatively about improvements that will make our transportation system a truly positive factor for our economy and communities.
Last week saw important progress in that direction for two of Watertown’s key transportation corridors.
First, the state put out to bid a study for the Mount Auburn Street/Fresh Pond Parkway area. This is a key step towards improving the permanent traffic snarl at the intersection of these two roads. Reducing the long delays at this intersection is one of the biggest things we can do to improve bus service to Watertown and ease commute times for drivers.
The study covers Mount Auburn Street from the Watertown line to Mount Auburn Hospital and Fresh Pond Parkway from Huron Avenue to the Eliot Bridge in Cambridge. The Department of Conservation and Recreation is responsible for Fresh Pond Parkway and will be the lead agency, but the study is a collaboration among Watertown, Cambridge, and Belmont 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 include improving service on the 71 and 73 buses and making the Mount Auburn Street/Fresh Pond Parkway intersection safer for cyclists and pedestrians, many of whom are children walking to school.
Second, the state transportation department officially launched a study of the Arsenal Street corridor. The focus will be the stretch of road undergoing the most rapid development – east from Watertown Square to the Allston line. But the study will include the broader corridor out to Waltham along Pleasant Street and into Cambridge along Western Ave.
The study will examine existing conditions and future alternatives for cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians. But like the Mount Auburn study, particular attention will be paid to public transit and how it can be improved in light of new approaches such as “bus rapid transit” and possible connections to new commuter rail stations in Allston-Brighton. The study will dovetail with Watertown’s recently announced plan to develop a Transit Management Association (TMA) to provide shuttle options to local businesses and residents.
The lead consultant on the Arsenal Street study is Watertown-based VHB. Town officials, area businesses and nonprofits, and citizen groups like the Watertown Public Transit Task Force played a key role in laying the groundwork for the study and will continue to be deeply involved.
These two studies are expected to take about 12-18 months to complete. Along the way, they could produce ideas for interim improvements, such as on the 70/70A bus on Arsenal Street. We are committed to seeing that the state moves forward on the full range of recommendations that come out of the studies.
Both studies provide for significant public participation, including community meetings and dedicated websites. We hope that everyone will take the opportunity to generate ideas and momentum to create a better transportation future for Watertown.
State Senator Will Brownsberger
State Representative Jonathan Hecht