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Even more lanes on 128, and Haverhill Line hangups

Posted by Nichole Davis  November 26, 2012 02:30 PM

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Back at it on this Monday, and I don't know about you, but I'm still full from the past week. Hope you were able to get back into the swing of things all right.

Today I've got more information on the re-opening of 128 - it looks like the DOT is poised to finish up the fourth lane stretches this week on the northbound side between Randolph and Dedham. More details in a bit. Also, a reader wrote in about a significant delay in work on the Haverhill line that's really messed up his commute. I've also got some snippets of a conversation with Ms. Beverly Scott, the incoming GM of the MBTA, last week that piqued my interest - and, hopefully, yours too.

Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to email me at commuting.boston at gmail dot com, and I'll get right on finding out what's messing with your commute.

The other side of the coin road

You knew it was coming - and now it's happening: MassDOT has announced that the new fourth travel lane is being opened on 128 north between Randolph and Dedham later this week.

Here's the schedule of events, as it were:


  • Tuesday: The fourth lane on 128 northbound between East Street in Dedham and just south of Route 109 in Dedham will open at 5:00 AM.

  • Wednesday: The fourth lane will open northbound between the 95 north on-ramp in Canton and East Street in Dedham at 5:00 AM.

  • Thursday: The fourth lane will open northbound between Route 138 in Canton and the 95 interchange in Canton at 5:00 AM.

  • Friday: The fourth lane will open northbound between Houghton's Pond / Ponkapoag Trail in Milton and Route 138 in Canton at 5:00 AM.

  • Saturday: The fourth lane will open northbound between Route 24 in Randolph and Houghton's Pond / Ponkapoag Trail in Milton at 5:00 AM.

(Of course, this is all subject to change - and, considering we're expecting some snow and rain later on this week, that could put this off by a couple of days if it gets nasty enough out.)

I know, I know; there are plenty of you out there who are displeased with this. As we discussed in the last post about this subject, many believe that the fourth travel lane, combined with the shutdown of the active breakdown lane, will do nothing but continue to hamper traffic because we aren't "gaining" any lanes.

Sara Lavoie at MassDOT says that shutting down the active breakdown lane was always the plan. In a summary for the project provided to me by MassDOT, the Federal Highway Administration says that keeping an active breakdown lane in service:

... restricts the availability of pullover areas for disabled and emergency vehicles and hinders other breakdown lane operations, such as law enforcement and safe merging and diverging at ramps, during the eight busiest travel hours of the day.

So, in essence, the DOT actually doesn't have authority to keep it open for any longer than the work is out there. According to the summary, MassHighway first gained permission to open up the active breakdown lanes back in 1985, before the Add-A-Lane project was even initiated. Through the years of construction, the agency has been granted several extensions - but, again, all with the understanding that this was meant to be a temporary measure. However, after being used to traveling in those lanes for almost 30 years, it's understandable that some commuters may want to keep it around.

When the southbound lane was opened a couple weeks back, we saw some extra delays for the first few days in the areas where the active breakdown lane was no longer in use. The new lane configuration caused plenty of confusion then, but it seems that, for the most part, people are more used to the drive now.

The best part about all of this, and a point I'm sticking to, is that entering and exiting the highway during the heavy travel times has become a much less dangerous practice. While it's too soon to tell with records, I'm looking forward to seeing if shutting down the active breakdown lane will cut down on crashes during the rush.

Have you driven 128 lately, now that the fourth travel lane's been opened on the southbound side? Have you seen a difference in traffic? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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Derailed Haverhill Line improvements

It's been almost 3 years since I abandoned the Haverhill commuter rail line and started taking the Lowell line from Anderson/Woburn, even though the Andover stop on the Haverhill line is half a mile from my house. Unreliability was the reason. I had hoped that the promised double tracking of the Haverhill line would help fix those issues, but although that work was funded in 2009 and supposed to be done by 2011, there are still no signs that they are even close to ready.

The Essex Street grade crossing, near Andover station, will need to be reconstructed to accommodate two rail lines, but that hasn't even started (but there is a newly laid second track the ends right before the crossing and starts up again about a half mile up the track from the crossing). They dropped extra rail beside the old track in 2009, but it has warped over these three years. I am hoping that you might be able to get some answers for those of us wondering what in the world is going on!
Nick, via email

Nick, hopefully this answer will give you some hope...

I sent your question over to the T, and spokesman Joe Pesaturo got back to me with some good news. Apparently - and you may have seen this in your daily jaunts lately - work has started back up on that area of track you'd been mentioning.

You're right in that nothing's really been worked on in your area's stretch of the line. Joe says that while the T was able to acquire funding back in 2009 for the project, it wasn't quite what they needed to put everything in motion. Some parts of the project had to be put on hold - Andover Station being one of them.

He told me there's several issues that need to be tackled before they can even start working on that second track, including drainage improvements, putting in a new signal system, and building a retaining wall.

The plus side to all of this is that the T was reportedly able to secure more funding in recent days, and Joe says that crews were back out around the area of Andover Station starting Monday the 19th. Repairs to the double track, and actually getting the whole project done, will be back on track (pun intended) sometime early next year. So, your time commuting to Lowell will (hopefully) be limited from here on out.
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The GM is on the line

As part of her assimilation into the job of General Manager here at the MBTA, Beverly Scott joined up with boston.com last week for a two-hour-ish chat, where customers and readers alike were able to submit questions.

I will say that after reading the transcript again today, it didn't look like Scott had concrete answers to many of the questions riders asked. I'd say that's understandable, to a point, considering she hasn't even officially started as General Manager yet (but will in mid-December). However, she did provide some interesting insight on a few issues.

A reader named Andrew wrote about an issue you'll hear most T riders complaining about (including myself) - the T shutting down simply too early:

"Is there any chance the T hours get extended (even on a limited basis) by two hours on weekends? Boston seems to be the only major city where people are stranded in major areas after hours. When bars close at 2, the T is closed and there are not enough cabs to get people home."

Scott acknowledged that it's something "people want to see happen", and noted that we in Boston aren't alone. According to Scott, in the MARTA system, trains don't run past 1:00 AM with some buses not operating past 10:00 PM. She noted that demand has to be balanced with "maintenance needs and resources". So, while it's a bit of a step-around answer, maybe some hope there? Maybe?
(Anyone else remember the Night Owl service? Memories...)

George asked if there were:
"Any plans to partner with local colleges and Universities to consolidate their campus cards with the Charlie Cards? Having multiple cards is frowned upon by most college students and would make life much more convenient with 1 card."

(For what it's worth, I think I can speak for everyone when I say that nobody likes having a wallet chock full of cards - even us older folks.) But I get what he's saying, and so does Ms. Scott. She says that there's already a pilot program in place with MIT to combine cards, and she says the T continues to look into ways to expand it to other local universities. She also noted that "transit is important to young people and [she gets] that."

Samuel wrote in about finances:
You have said your role as MBTA GM is to fight for more funding. Why do you not see your job as a manager to work with the money that you already have? Do you believe there is opportunity for cutting significant waste and mismanagement?

Ms. Scott brought up some very scary numbers while answering this question. Apparently, according to her, the US Department of Transportation did a study that shows that, nationwide, transit systems are in need of $80 billion worth of repair in order to be considered in good shape. Just the top seven transit systems alone need at least $40 billion worth of work - Boston being one of them. So, she acknowledged that there's plenty of work that needs to be done. After, that, though, Scott agreed with Samuel by saying "we cannot cut ourselves into prosperity". She also mentioned that continuing to slash costs won't bring the necessary resources to the agency to move things forward. Scott said that the agency will continue to look into cost containment and productivity.

Jason brought up the frustrating issue of front-door-only exit and entry on Green Line trolleys:

I find the new "front door only" rule on the green line trains to be very very difficult for passengers who may be disabled or have children. It's heartbreaking watching them push their way through busy trains and I have, on more than one occasion, seen them miss stops because of this policy. Will you please reconsider this policy?

Scott made it clear in her answers that customers have been making their voices heard about the issue. She didn't say that there would be any reconsideration of the policy, because customers essentially asked to put something similar in place due to fare evasion control. Scott did mention that drivers are trained to provide access to those who need rear door entry and exit, and that those drivers aren't bound to the front door entry and exit at all times. She mentioned that she would make sure that drivers were reminded of such, but it doesn't look like the front-door issues are going to be resolved anytime soon.

You can check out the entire transcript of the chat here.

If you could ask the incoming GM a question, what would it be?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Nichole Davis is a Boston-based traffic reporter and news anchor. She’s been seen and heard on television and radio airwaves across New England since 2003, providing commuters with all the More »

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