Friday, May 7, 1999
Route 3 plans on the fast track
"We are looking for a way to dramatically change the way we deliver major projects in Massachusetts," said Massachusetts Deputy Secretary of Transportation Ned Corcoran to a group of planners and selectmen at a meeting in Bedford on April 29. He was explaining the reasoning behind the new model proposed for the Route 3 expansion.
MAGIC (Minuteman Advisory Group on Interlocal Cooperation) representatives, whose towns will be directly impacted by Route 3 widening, had asked for the meeting with Corcoran. He stated that three years ago there were "strong, compelling reasons to widen Route 3," and it was scheduled to be a toll road. Opposing town managers and some legislators applied pressure asking the state to find a financially viable way to do it without a toll. This led them to the present plan. Rather than bond the widening project, transportation authorities have come up with a plan in which the state awards the contract for widening the highway to a developer. A corridor advisory council of delegates from towns directly affected will work with the developer
Advantages of developer model
Developer financing is the big carrot in the proposed model, which is seen as a prototype for future highway developments, including Route 3 South. The plan skirts the problems of the state's bonded indebtedness ceiling by having the developer come up with the cash. The developer will seek private financing for the project and own the project for a 25- to 30-year period. Upon completion of construction, the state will begin to repay the developer. This does away with bonding problems and cost overruns, which Corcoran says are routinely in the 9 to 12 percent range in any new construction.
Corcoran was asked why a developer would want to do this. The answer was profit from fiber-optic cable rights under the road, development of a service plaza at the Chelmsford rest area, and possible air rights. Route 3 development cannot override local zoning, according to Corcoran.
Route 128 bottleneck a worry
Congestion at the Routes 3 and 128 interchange worried local representatives. Dick Canale of Lexington asked, "If you increase capacity in the corridor, what happens at 128?" Barbara Lucas of MAPC (Metropolitan Area Planning Commission) asked Corcoran if Route 3 widening is solving a current congestion problem or creating a new one. She said it is "not hard to imagine that we are moving congestion from Route 3 to 128." Corcoran's response was that "128 issues are for another project....It is how Route 3 gets widened, not if it gets widened." He added that widening Route128 for an improved interchange would add $30 to $40 million in costs to the project.
When a Department of Environmental Protection representative suggested, "I think we should revisit the toll notion," she was told simply that it wasn't possible.
Local concerns are that traffic will divert from Route 3 through neighboring towns while construction is underway and then from the Route 128 bottleneck after the project is completed. Incidentally, the proposed Route 3 will be wider than the Massachusetts Turnpike, although the volume of traffic on it is not expected to increase substantially.
A fast track
Once the legislature approves the Route 3 widening bill, Corcoran says things will go relatively quickly. Corcoran estimates it will take 45 days to choose three proposals from those submitted, and within 30 days the three sets of figures and plans should be available.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito