The following statement was released jointly by State Senator Will Brownsberger, State Senator Pat Jehlen, Representative Jon Hecht and Representative Dave Rogers.
If you commute inbound from Belmont, Watertown or West Cambridge, there is one problem you always have to solve — how to get past the congestion on Fresh Pond Parkway. A movement is afoot to improve the situation.
The roughly 5,000 who daily take the bus to Harvard Square often wait through a long queue of traffic along Mount Auburn Street by the cemetery. Thousands more in cars are stuck in the same mess or in the parallel messes on Brattle and Huron.
Fresh Pond Parkway is among the most congested roads in the Commonwealth. The parkway channels a huge volume of traffic through a series of busy intersections and most of those intersections simply cannot be eliminated. But there are two critical intersections that can be improved with real benefits for the commuting public.
About seven years ago, a group of us started talking about how to address the main intersection at Route 2 and Route 16 by the Alewife T Garage. After a couple of years of meetings and the modeling of a number of alternatives, we settled on a concept which will redesign the intersection and simplify the light cycle there, allowing more cars to be moving more of the time. Public hearings are complete, designs are complete to the 100% level, and funding appears to be available. We are hopeful that construction will start in the not too distant future.
A new conversation is starting about how to redesign the intersection at Fresh Pond Parkway and Mount Auburn Street. We recently held a first meeting in Cambridge to brainstorm directions. The City of Cambridge, which owns Mount Auburn street in that stretch, hosted the meeting. The state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation which owns Fresh Pond Parkway, sent a strong team.
The MBTA also participated in the conversation, confirming that, by far, this intersection is the most significant bottleneck for the 71 and 73 buses serving Watertown and Belmont. Improvements at this intersection could dramatically improve service on those busy routes. Belmont and Watertown also sent representatives who emphasized their willingness to collaborate.
We reviewed recent efforts by the City of Cambridge to improve light timing in the intersection — through the winter, the Coolidge Avenue light, immediately before the intersection, was out of synch with the main light, contributing to extraordinary delays. That situation has been rectified, but tuning of the timing continues — at the height of the rush hour on Mount Auburn, there is also a crush of parents dropping off students at the Shady Hill School.
As the conversation shifted into brainstorming mode, there was a sense of excitement in the room — it became clear (a) that no one has really studied the intersection in many years and (b) that there are real opportunities for improvement.
Aerial views of the intersection make obvious how much wasted space there is in the middle of the intersection. That huge empty expanse takes a long time to clear once the light turns to red. To allow motorists to clear the intersection, there are significant intervals when the lights are red both ways — that means that cars and buses are waiting when they should be moving. And, of course, the long crossings are very unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists.
At a minimum, it is clear that the geometry of the intersection can be substantially improved. And a wide range of other options merit consideration — the scope of study should include the whole series of intersections along Mount Auburn. The transportation bond bill approved this week and sent to the Governor includes language that we have sponsored to fund a study of the intersection.
The problem is regional and is created by congestion on a state-owned roadway. A solution will require sustained collaboration between several state agencies and several municipalities. The first meeting was very promising. As your legislators, we are committed to fighting for funding and doing everything we can to support a long-term focus on the redesign of this intersection. Saving 10 or 20 minutes a day for thousands of people is one of those little things that is actually a very big thing.