Last week, canvassing in East Boston for a City Council candidate, I had a lengthy informative conversation with Chris Marchi, as well-knowing a transportation activist as any I know of. From that discussion, which focused on MassPort traffic, but soon expanded to the impact of major housing creation on our local transporting systems, I drew conclusions whence arises the column I am now writing.
The problem : Logan Airport’s location directly abutting East Boston has brought an ever-increasing surge of vehicle traffic onto all the access roads that surround and pass directly through a neighborhood which is home to at least 45,000 people. Although the Covid pandemic shut down most of this traffic for over a year, it is sure to return now that the local State of Emergency is set to end on June 15th. Marchi predicts that post-Covid traffic to and from Logan will increase well beyond the highest pre-Covid numbers. Add to that the traffic consequences of the 10,000 housing-unit Suffolk Downs project,, and there is simply no place for so much vehicle traffic to traverse.
Discussion : Perhaps Logan airport should not have expanded as much as it has. Perhaps a second Boston airport should have been constructed, elsewhere. Other big cities are served by two airports or more; why not Boston ? It was oft5en discussed some decades ag but nothing transpired. Instead, Logan Airport took over the entire Wood Island section of East Boston and encroached upon Jeffries Point right up to its ocean side. There is, however, no more land that Logan can take. Its danger to East Boston no longer arises from land seizures but from traffic overwhelming every neighborhood street.
The Logan plan : Logan has put together an expansion proposal which, so argues Marchi, vehicle trips to and from the airport will total maybe 100 million per year. If that number is reached — the highest figure pre-Covid was 75 million, says Marchi — streets to and from Logan, all access roads, and many neighborhood roads, will be jammed up all day long and well into the night hours.
An advisory committee, many of whose members I know, all of them dedicated East Boston activists, has met with Logan planners and, according to a member of the advisory group, had all of its concerns satisfied. Marchi, however, argues that the expansion plan will enable traffic volumes well beyond what the advisory committee has considered.
If Marchi is correct, what now can be done ? He says that it’s a matter for State government, that local mitigation efforts no longer suffice; that the State’s Transportation administration (MassDOT) must tackle the matter fundamentally. This includes increasing traffic capacity on access roads; limiting the number of one-occupant vehicle trips to and from Logan; and making use of auxiliary airports such as T F Green in Rhode Island to handle the anticipated air flight surges.
Of these suggestions, all of which ought be approved in order for any of them to work, I would advise the following :
( 1 ) divert short-trip flights to T F Green and to Manchester Airport, via shuttle service, if need be, reserving Logan for long distance flights (greater than 500 miles)
( 2 ) connect Logan access roads directly to Route One north and even to Interstate 93 in order to relieve the traffic pressure oi Burbank and McLellan Highways.
( 3 ) limit one-occupant vehicle trips to and from Logan to persons intending top park on site at Logan. Pick-ups and drop-offs to be done at one central location on the main Logan access road hard by the Airport MBTA terminal, those being dropped off or picked up using a shuttle to go to or from an airport terminal.
The second item on my list is going to happen anyway once the 10,000 Suffolk Downs housing units are fully occupied some ten years from now. Suffolk’s planners have already discussed with MassDOT improvements it intends to make to McLellan and Burbank Highways, including moving and reshaping the lanes. Might as well ad just these renovations to my airport traffic proposal.
Conclusion : some have suggested State action top discourage the use of private vehicles for its own sake. I oppose this move., The private vehicle is a significant advantage to personal freedom. Being able to move where one likes, when one likes, is crucial to the liberty we idealize as Americans. Better by far to be held up in traffic as a free man than to speed one’s way somewhere under the control thumb of public transport. That said, my suggestion uses only private vehicles as far as they can rationally go : to the gateway of an airport, even if not, in most cases, into it. The airport gateway is all that a free person need destine himself to. Inside that gate, you’re the airport’s guest and can freely accommodate yourself to being hosted.
— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere