Traffic Subcommittee meeting: Lord Overpass

Main takeaway – Public input session on Lord Overpass project on Monday, November 16, 2015 at 6 pm at the Lowell Senior Center.

Lord Overpass 2009 design

The Lowell City Council traffic subcommittee met last evening for an update on the Lord Overpass renovation project. A greater than usual volume of traffic due to a concert at the Tsongas Center caused the start of the subcommittee meeting to be delayed for 15 minutes. That members of the traffic subcommittee were late for their meeting because they were stuck in traffic was both amusing and emblematic of the difficulties the city faces with this issue.

Plaque on Lord Overpass

The meeting began with a presentation by Diane Tradd and her team from the Department of Planning and Development. Construction activity is already underway on Jackson Street and should be done by the end of this calendar year. This work will extend Jackson Street up to (but not yet connect with) Dutton/Thorndike Street and will facilitate the construction of the judicial center.

Regarding the Lord Overpass project, the city’s engineering consultants are continuing their preliminary design work. The long-awaited public input session is now scheduled for Monday, November 16, 2015 at 6 pm. This will be an opportunity for members of the public to share their ideas, concerns, and thoughts with the engineering team.

Besides this November session, another public meeting will be held near the end of January to present multiple design and then a third public meeting will be held in April to present the final design although the full planning process won’t be completed until the end of 2016.

DPD’s Craig Thomas provided some background. The preliminary work on this project came out of the Hamilton Canal District design process. The preliminary concept, seen in the photo above, was developed then, back in 2009. That was used to obtain a $15 million state grant for this project. The contract for the work was finalized this past spring.

Ramp up to Middlesex St

A few changes have already been made to the 2009 design. For instance, sidewalks are to be included on all ramps to the Lord Overpass (the ramp leading down from the Overpass to Thorndike Street heading downtown does not now have a sidewalk, nor did it have one in the preliminary plan). Another change is to remove the sidewalks from the interior of the Overpass. DPD feels they are rarely used and present their own set of hazards. Eliminating these sidewalks will allow the perimeter sidewalks to be wider. Another change is to extend the sidewalk design that now exists along the South Common all the way up to the overpass.

Thorndike St underneath Lord Overpass

The idea of a sidewalk running along Thorndike Street from the Gallagher Terminal to the Textile History Museum (that is, going underneath the Overpass) is not favored by DPD. They prefer that walkers and bikers go up over the Overpass to get to the other side. They say this is the “safer” route.

Another important issue discussed was access to Western Avenue from Thorndike Street. While not part of the Lord Overpass project, the city has essentially linked the Overpass and Western Ave access together. Tradd explained that the train tracks are owned by the MBTA. The MBTA is vehemently opposed to granting any type of pedestrian or vehicle crossing at grade (meaning on the ground). Not only does the MBTA have safety and liability concerns about such a crossing, it also maintains crossing gates would not be feasible since that stretch of track is used by freight trains that are forming up for longer journeys. Consequently, there is a lot of shuffling back and forth and idling in place and so crossing gates would constantly be going up and down.

The MBTA, according to Tradd, is willing to grant the city “air rights” over the tracks. This would allow the construction of an elevated pedestrian walkway. A very rough estimate by MBTA officials based on similar structures elsewhere in the Commonwealth set the approximate cost of this at $2 million.

About 18 members of the public attended last night’s meeting. Many of them spoke during the public input session. Most of the councilors also attended as did City Manager Murphy.

So that’s my report on last night’s meeting. I have many thoughts about this project but I’ll refrain from sharing them now. Be sure to check back Sunday morning for my week-in-review blog post. I’ll dig into this issue there.

One Response to Traffic Subcommittee meeting: Lord Overpass

  1. Bob Philpot says:

    Great post. Those involved in the planning would be best suited to watch what pedestrians in the area do today, and do their best to accommodate those paths. In many instances I see that pedestrians take a path similar to water – they flow as directly from point to point as they can, and only extreme obstacles will deviate their flow… For example, there are many times that I have seen people come down the ramp from Middlesex on their way to Fletcher. Despite the multiple lanes of traffic, and medians in the way, they will traverse it all instead of using the sidewalks on the Lord Overpass and the outbound side of Thorndike Street.