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The Cape escape kickoff, and a furtherance of the Fitchburg line

Posted by Nichole Davis  May 26, 2013 10:26 AM

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While those who care more about the weather for Memorial Day weekend wrung their hands and were worried about busted forecasts, we on the traffic side of things were sure of one thing: traffic was going to be a mess. And it was.

Why were we so sure? Memorial Day weekend, being the start of summertime, also means the beginning of what many of us locals call the "Cape Escape". It's that time of year where Friday afternoons are sure to be jampacked much earlier than usual ... Saturday mornings are going to be a mess trying to get on and off the Cape ... and Sunday nights are going to be a drag.

It only gets worse after schools get out - things finally calm down a bit after Labor Day weekend, when everyone gets back to their normal routines. You add rain to it, and it's a recipe for gridlock.

Anyway, for this weekend - regardless of the weather - you can be sure that people who have made these very expensive and non-refundable holiday reservations will be going. This weekend actually stacks up as one of the top 20 busiest travel times of the year. Last year, according to Sara Lavoie at the DOT, the Friday before Memorial Day weekend ranked #13. This was according to the amount of toll transactions (roughly 350,000) that took place on the Mass Pike between the Weston tolls and the state line with New York (Remember that formula? It's the same one that determined that Mother's Day weekend was the busiest travel time last year, to the surprise of many.)

People often ask me when they should bother driving to the Cape. Here's the best times to consider:

Friday - early in the morning, if you can swing it. After 1:00 or so you're probably going to be caught up in heavy delays at least on the Expressway. By 2:00 the whole ride's going to be a mess and it won't ease up until at least 6:00 or 7:00 in the evening.
Saturday - either before 9:00 AM or after 3:00 PM or so. Lots of reservations on-Cape run Saturday to Saturday so you'll find busy traffic on both sides of the bridges from mid-morning into the mid-afternoon.
Sunday - you do have to leave eventually, sadly, if you're just going down for a weekend. Leaving will be easiest to do either between 4:00 and 6:00 PM, or after 9:00 PM. Lots of people decide that they want to have one last dinner on-Cape before heading home, so you can take advantage of that time to scoot out early.

What's the best way to get off the Cape? Here's a couple of driving alternates from tried-and-true Cape drivers:

  • There is a service road that runs between Route 132 in Hyannis (Exit 6) and Route 130 in Sandwich (Exit 2) off of Route 6. Take that road, follow it to Route 130, which you can then take to Route 6A, which is an alternate route to the Sagamore Bridge. Keep in mind that Route 6A is still going to be heavy, but it's not going to be AS bad as Route 6 west will be -- that can sometimes back up six to ten miles trying to get off the bridge.
  • You can also consider cutting over from Route 6 to the Bourne Bridge. You can do this (somewhat) quickly by taking Exit 5 to Route 149 southbound to Route 28 north. 28 is going to back up a bit approaching the Bourne rotary, but you can get on 151 and cut across to meet up again with 28, saving yourself a trip through Falmouth.

If driving's not your thing, of course, there's always the much-talked-about CapeFlyer, which started up for the season on Friday. Service via rail to and from the Cape hasn't really been around for over a quarter of a century... it was halted back in the mid-80's due to lack of funds. This new service is funded by the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority. Trips run sparingly through the weekend so far, with one way trips taking about two hours 40 minutes. A one-way ticket is $20, round-trip is $35. A concession car serves Cape-centric snacks and drinks. More information's available here.

You could also choose to go by bus. Plymouth and Brockton runs several times per day between Logan Airport and Provincetown, via the South Shore. Tickets vary depending on destination - check here for details.

Another option is to go by boat. Ferry service runs between Boston and Provincetown on a relatively regular basis during the summer months. Here's some options to choose from. There's special Zipcar discounts and programs to help you get around once you get to P-town. Check those out here.

How do you normally choose to get to the Cape? Do you just not bother? Do you go during the week instead? Do you have any alternates I've missed?
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In case you missed it: There's some more help out there on the roads to assist you in gauging traffic conditions. MassDOT announced this past week that they've deployed 48 new (albeit temporary) signs along major roads - not unlike the ones we've seen on 93 - to provide real-time traffic conditions using you, the driver, as a sensor. They've been testing these signs for the past few weeks for deployment during this busy holiday weekend. Why do I call them temporary? They'll be replaced with permanent signs in due time, but for now they're just message boards on wheels.

The boards update every three minutes between 5:00 AM and 10:00 PM with the most current sensor information. Those are triggered, by the way, by Bluetooth-compatible devices in cars that pass by. Don't worry - the DOT says they don't collect any of your personal information or identify you.

A full list of where the signs have been deployed, and more information on the technology, is available here.
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Those of you living west of the end of the Fitchburg line soon won't have quite as far to commute to access a train.

Final approval has been gained for the new Wachusett Station to be constructed in West Fitchburg, at the intersection of Routes 2 and 31. That'll extend the current line about four and a half miles from the present end point in downtown Fitchburg. Ground is being broken on the brand new commuter rail station in the coming weeks, with an expectation that the station will be finished sometime by the end of 2014.

First and foremost - probably one of the more important attributes of the new station - there will be more parking! To the tune of 350+ spaces! It will also be fully accessible and have all the latest bells and whistles that one comes to expect from a new commuter rail station. Check out a markup of the plans here.

The new station comes with an almost $23 million price tag, but officials say it's all funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Not all $23 million will be going to the new station, however. A new "layover facility" will also be built in Westminster as part of the project. What's a layover facility? It's essentially a storage area for trains, and a place for maintenance work to be performed. There's already a layover facility for the Fitchburg Line in Lunenburg, but this new facility in Westminster would replace that. Six new tracks and a complete maintenance facility would be part of the new construction, which will cost over $12 million.

Keep in mind that the Fitchburg line is also undergoing changes for the summer in terms of weekend scheduling. The T says these closures and restrictions are necessary for improvements, and that weekday schedules will never be affected.

June 1 - July 28: no service on weekends between Fitchburg and South Acton, except for the weekend of July 4th. Service will start and end at South Acton.

August 3 - November 17th: no service on weekends between South Acton and Brandeis/Roberts, except for Labor Day weekend. Service will start and end at Brandeis/Roberts.

Also, FYI: There won't be any shuttle buses running between those closed stations, so if you want to catch trains, you'll have to find a way to either South Acton or Brandeis (depending on the weekend).

MBTA Matters

There's plenty of restrictions and reductions in place for T service for the Memorial Day holiday this Monday. Be sure to plan ahead and expect heavier delays than normal because of the reduced service:

Subway

All lines will be operating on a Sunday schedule, including the Silver Line.

Commuter Rail

Several lines will not be operating for the day, including the Greenbush, Fairmount, Kingston/Plymouth and Needham lines. All other lines will be on a Sunday schedule.

Commuter Boat

The F1, F2 and F2H lines will all be operating on a normal weekday schedule. The F4 boat will be operating on a Saturday/Sunday schedule.

Buses

All buses will be operating on a Sunday schedule, except for the following lines, which will not be running:

CT1, CT2, CT3, 4, 5, 7, 14, 18, 19, 29, 33, 37, 38, 51, 52, 62, 65, 67, 68, 70A, 74, 76, 77A, 79, 84, 85, 92, 114, 121, 131, 132, 170, 210, 212, 217, 221, 245, 325, 326, 351, 352, 354, 411, 424, 424W, 426, 428, 430, 434, 436, 439, 448, 449, 451, 456, 459, 465, 501, 502, 503, 505, 553, 554, 556, 558.

The RIDE

All routes will be running on a Sunday schedule. Be sure to check with your specific local provider for how that will affect you.

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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