T’s ‘Urban Ring’ plan revives

December 14, 2012
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A study proposing to link the MBTA’s Blue and Silver lines in the long-delayed Urban Ring transit project is scheduled to start in January. It was announced during a Dec. 3 Urban Ring community advisory committee (CAC) meeting, held in the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s (BRA) board room at City Hall.

The Urban Ring would develop new public transportation alternatives that avoid downtown Boston’s “hub,” creating a “ring” around the city. The overall plan includes a new Longwood Medical Area (LMA) transit route.

The $2.6 billion project was first proposed in the 1970s. It was actively developed from the mid-1990s and stalled mid-way through its second phase in 2009, BRA employee John “Tad” Read said. Read is the CAC’s co-chair.

The meeting was not advertised on the websites of the BRA and the state Department of Transportation’s (MassDOT) Urban Ring project.

“It’s not our project. It’s an awkward situation,” Read told the Gazette. “We’re doing what we can to pick up the ball. But we will post [CAC meetings on the BRA website] in the future.”

MassDOT is responsible for the project though the City is helping plan it, BRA spokesperson Melina Schuler told the Gazette.

“The City supports the development but there’s no money right now,” Schuler said. “[But] it’s being planned with the anticipation that it’s something viable and that can be created in the future.”

For example, the City is keeping previously agreed-upon rights-of-way clear for the project.

“If [MassDOT] could support the project, they would, but I don’t think they can [right now],” Read added.

The study would look at alternatives for extending the MBTA’s Silver Line Waterfront service to connect with the Blue Line, East Boston and Chelsea. The study is expected to be completed in September, MassDOT spokesperson Michael Verseckes told the Gazette.

“The project is dormant,” Read explained. “Like trees, it’ll come back to life when the season is right.”

The Urban Ring would pass through the LMA underground, linking Ruggles Station to the Fenway area. The project was halted in 2009, when MassDOT’s projected funding was no longer available. MassDOT chose to focus its financial resources on legally-obligated projects. But the City continues to tacitly support the project, incorporating Urban Ring accommodations—like bus-only carriageways—in other city projects.

The Urban Ring is the only major long-term MBTA expansion project in the area beside the Green line extension, Read said.

When first called for comment, MassDOT referred the Gazette to the BRA as the lead agency. The BRA referred the Gazette to MassDOT. MassDOT is the lead agency.