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Newton Traffic, Safety Concerns Pile Up for I-95 Project

The MassDOT's "Add-a-Lane" project doesn't actually happen in Newton, but will affect traffic and safety in the Garden City. More residents and aldermen are hoping to get the word out.

Although it does not technically run through the Garden City, the Route 128/I-95 "Add-a-Lane" project has caused a bit of a stir in the Newton community. 

Roughly a dozen residents squeezed into a meeting room last night to hear more about the MassDOT project. The group shared their concerns about traffic increase on Quinobequin Road and Winchester Street as well as cyclist safety on Highland Avenue (Needham/Newton line).

"This is a huge project with several major intersections," Quinobequin Road resident Maureen Meagher said during the Public Safety & Transportation Committee meeting. "I really challenge how many people in the community know about this."

The $127 million Add-a-Lane project that affects Newton/Needham/Wellesley is part of a larger, $300-$400 million rebuilding of I-95, Associate City Engineer Clint Schuckel explained. The 14-mile project began down at Route 24 in Randolph and has moved north to finish at the Route 9/I-95 interchange in Wellesley. 

To view proposed changes, maps and Schuckel's presentation, click the .pdfs above.

Slated to start in 2013, the Needham/Wellesley piece of the project will address five bridge locations (and any corresponding interchanges) along I-95. Those locations include:

  • Kendrick Street bridge in Needham
  • Highland Avenue in Needham
  • MBTA railroad bridge (Upper Falls Branch) in Needham 
  • I-95 over Central Street in Needham (becomes Eliot Street in Newton)
  • I-95 over Route 9 in Wellesley

The project, which is projected to finish in 2016, also proposes shrinking the I-95 median to create larger, 10-foot shoulders on either side of the highway and convert the current break down lane to a fourth lane. Right now, the breakdown lane is used as a travel lane during rush hour, which poses safety concerns for disabled cars.

Some of the concerns shared Wednesday night surround potential traffic back-up on to Quinobequin Road as a result of new traffic lights installed at Route 9. Aldermen also suspected that the state underestimated its traffic projections and neglected to address to Winchester Street as a result of added the Kendrick Road interchange.

"We need to talk about [this project] as a community and let others know about what's going on," Alderman-at-Large David Kalis said.

There were also a number of concerns about the bike paths on Highland Avenue, as cyclists will have to cross an off-ramp to continue down Highland Avenue.

A public hearing was held in Needham last June at the project's 25 percent design stage. However, a hearing does not have to be held in Newton because the project does not technically run through the city. Alderman-at-Large Brian Yates docketed the item for the aldermen to discuss and create more awareness in the community. 

Aldermen urged concerned residents to write letters to Mayor Setti Warren as well as State Rep. Ruth Balser, State Rep. Kay Khan and Senator Cindy Creem. Alderman-at-Large and Public Safety & Transportation Chair Jay Ciccone said he and Vice Chair Jay Harney will co-sign a letter to the governor about the project.

Proposed interchange adjustments

Kendrick Street

  • This will be the first local bridge to be addressed. It is currently just an overpass.
  • The project will transform the overpass into a new, "diamond-type" interchange with a traffic signal on the west side of the interchange
  • The interchange was designed for full access to the industrial park (on the east side) but not the residential area on the west side

Highland Avenue

  • Currently an interchange with a "clover leaf" pattern
  • The changes will keep the clover leaf pattern, but add a "collector-distributor" or "C-D" road
  • The C-D road will eliminate the weaving that occurs on I-95 near this exit

Route 9

  • Currently an interchange with a clover leaf pattern and very sharp curves on the on/off ramps that do not meet federal standards
  • The proposed changes create a "partial clover leaf" to address the weaving on I-95 
  • The partial clover leaf will add two new traffic signals and two ramps will be removed (the on-ramp from Route 9 East to I-95 North and on-ramp from Route 9 West to I-95 South will be eliminated)
  • Instead of making a right turn on to those on-ramps, there will be a double left-turn lane with a traffic signal (see map above for visual)

Concerns

Quinobequin Road/Route 9

  • Both aldermen and Quinobequin Road residents expressed concern last night about the possibility of Quinobequin being used as a cut-through road when traffic is backed up due to new traffic lights installed at the Route 9/I-95 intersection
  • Quinobequin Road resident Valerie Forte said traffic will likely back up due to traffic lights and a funnel effect from two on-ramp lanes going down to one

Kendrick Street/Nahanton Street/Winchester Street

  • Aldermen and residents believe traffic counts done by the state may not have been accurate and projected too low. For example, the state's projections show that Kendrick Street westbound (from Newton) during the evening commute would actually decrease by 215 cars by 2017.
  • Traffic studies were not done on Winchester Street, which will be affected by this new interchange
  • Schuckel said the city will look into doing its own traffic studies at the affected roads

Highland Avenue

  • With the new construction, bikes will have to cross I-95 on-ramps to continue down Highland Avenue
  • Alderman-at-Large Marcia Johnson called this configuration "mind boggling" in terms of safety
  • Schuckel explained that a tunnel for bikers could not be built under the off-ramp due to pedestrian accessibility requirements. A sidewalk next to the bike lane will be built and pedestrian walkways can not have more of an 8 percent grade, which would require starting the tunnel farther down Highland Street to make it less steep
  • A bike bridge could potentially be built, Schuckel said, as they are relatively inexpensive compared to the total $127 million project

What do you think about the Add-a-Lane project? Share your thoughts and concerns in the comments section below. 


Maureen Reilly Meagher February 11, 2012 at 03:48 AM
Thanks for covering this Melanie. I hope that people will take the time to look at designs. They might also Google MassDOT 603711. Please let your representatives know your thoughts.

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