Encore Boston Harbor Begins Median Islands on Lower Broadway

The unattractive speedway, or traffic trap, that many have known Lower Broadway to be over a lifetime will start to change this week as work crews from Encore Boston Harbor begin installing the long-touted median islands on the roadway.

The median strips will be fully landscaped and will run in portions from just before Dexter Street to the front of the Batch Yard entrance – an improvement that will be allow new left-hand turning lanes where there haven’t been any and also will be fully landscaped to create a luxury boulevard.

Al Carrier, of Wynn Design and Development, said they began cutting in the new “islands” on Lower Broadway this Monday.

“We are cutting in the islands right now, and almost all of the sidewalks have been completed on Broadway,” he said. “ There are a few pieces here and there with the sidewalks left to do, but most are complete. The same for the elevated cycle tracks, which we have put in also. There have been a number of utilities in the way looking to improve their positions underground while we’re working and that’s slowed some things down. But really, what you’re seeing this week is the median islands starting to be built.

“We’re planning to mill and overlay Lower Broadway by the end of November,” he continued. “The islands will be fully constructed by then too. The only thing that will need to go in during the spring is the landscaping and that’s the game plan. All the lights will be up and functioning, and all the street lights will be up too. We want everything on Lower Broadway fully functioning by the end of this construction season so it’s only tidying up work in the spring.”

The traffic medians have long been proposed by Encore, and are believed to not only allow new left-hand turns without stopping a lane of traffic, but will also act as a way to slow down traffic on the corridor.

“For the motorist, it’s definitely going to be a safer condition, especially on the turns,” he said. “One thing we heard from the neighbors here is that the road is a speedway. The median islands actually also help as a traffic calming move. It isn’t intended to be. It’s intended to be for the left turn lanes, but it does actually slow traffic down when the landscaping is in.”

The off-site traffic work on Lower Broadway is accompanied by a truck route that is to run on Dexter and Robin Streets – taking trucks going to the industrial areas or the New England Produce Center off of Lower Broadway and the Beacham Street traffic light. That project, however, has been slowed up by a delayed, unrelated Eversource project.

Originally, Encore planned to finish the truck route first, then focus on Broadway to finish out the season.
Now, due to the Eversource delays, it appears they will only be able to do about half of the truck route – starting on Robin Street Nov. 5 and working to around Thorndike before the season ends.

“The plan is to focus on putting Broadway back together this season and then we’ll focus on the truck route,” Carrier said. “The truck route was supposed to be first, but we had to change that.”

Unlike Broadway, Carrier said the truck route has to be a full-depth reconstruction due to the deteriorated road conditions, which takes much longer to complete. On Nov. 5, they will likely begin working on Robin Street and Beacham and work down to Thorndike before the construction season ends.

Another improvement won’t even be seen, but for those behind the wheel or on a bike, it will be felt – and hopefully in a big way.

That change is the coordination of traffic signals with the Boston Transportation Monitoring Center (TMC) using a Boston Transportation Department (BTD) “interconnect.” From Sweetser Circle to Boston City Hall, all of the intersections will be coordinated and surveillance cameras will allow the BTD to monitor all of those intersections from their TMC.

Everett and Boston have worked together and agreed to allow Boston to be in charge of the “eyes” on the corridor as it is so closely linked. That way, if there is a major backup in Everett or Boston – a quick override of the new smart signals can help relieve the congestion manually.

“Once we get around the Mystic River, it will go all the way up to Sweetser Circle in Everett and will control all of that corridor,” he said. “We’ll have video there and it will all funnel into the Boston TMC. That will give them eyes on the whole corridor. There are conversations with Everett and Boston are happening, and they’ve agreed to let the BTD have their fingers on the controls to make whatever changes are necessary to the signals on the corridor.”

With interconnected lights and the eyes from Boston City Hall, it is believed that the corridor will become much more efficient in moving traffic.

Beyond that, Carrier said the entire change will be amazing for those who, for a generation, have grown accustomed to the gritty appearances of Lower Broadway.

“It is going to be amazing,” he said. “When you get the landscaping in, the crosswalks and the new bus stops, it will be really nice there.”

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