Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hurdle remains on CSXT's Worcester, Mass., project

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While Worcester, mass., City Manager Michael V. O'Brien has committed to coming back to the City Council in three weeks with a deal to address issues associated with CSX Transportation's. freight yard expansion plan, some doubts are being raised about whether the biggest obstacle - finding a new roadway connection from Shrewsbury Street to Franklin Street - can be achieved, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

The biggest challenge city and state officials are encountering in mapping out such a roadway is the topography of that area and meeting design criteria for road and bridge construction. As of now, it appears the only way a new roadway connection could be built is if some of those criteria are eased. But that would come with some liability, making it difficult to get state and federal support for the project, according to Robert L. Moylan Jr., commissioner of public works and parks.

To facilitate CSXT's $100-million expansion project - the current 28-acre freight yard would be increased to 51 acres in size - Putnam Lane would have to be closed. That has been a source of much controversy because Putnam Lane is the only connection between Franklin and Shrewsbury streets, from Washington Square to Piccadilly Plaza on Shrewsbury Street.

So far, city, state and CSXT officials have come up with 14 options to replace Putnam Lane, but all have been ruled out with the exception of one that calls for constructing a new road from Shrewsbury and Adams streets to Franklin Street, via Foch Avenue, a private street next to the Brown Square Civic Club. A 320-foot bridge would span the CSXT freight yard.

The estimated cost of building the bridge alone would be $10 million to $12 million, while the total cost of the road/bridge project would be $15 million to $20 million

Under that option, however, the grade of the roadway would exceed city design criteria. While the city does not want the grades for new roads to exceed 9 percent, Moylan said, the road grade for this option would be 12 percent to 13 percent. That is similar to the hill on Dorchester Street, from Vernon Street to Providence Street, he said.

Also, city design criteria call for at least 100 feet of level area as an approach to the bridge, but Mr. Moylan said only about 50 to 60 feet of level area can be designed for this plan.

"Clearly, the big problem with this option is that we have to somehow reduce the grade from 12 percent to at least 9 percent," Moylan said. "We don't want to exceed a 9 percent grade."

That design is based on the bridge having a clearance of 23 feet above the train tracks. Maurice O'Connell, vice president of government affairs for CSXT, said that standard is followed because that is what is recognized by the Federal Highway Administration for new bridge construction. The standard clearance used to be 21-1/2 feet, but it was increased to accommodate the double stacking of freight containers. Moylan said even if the city could get the clearance for the bridge lowered to 21-1/2 feet, the grade of the new roadway would still exceed 9 percent.

District 3 Councilor Paul P. Clancy Jr. pointed out that the steep and hilly topography of the area make the project more difficult.

"It's the nature of the neighborhood," Clancy said. "But there is such rabid concern that a connection continue to exist between Shrewsbury and Franklin streets. The neighborhood does not want anything less as a result of this project. They want to sustain the same access they now have."

District 2 Councilor Philip P. Palmieri, meanwhile, has been highly critical about the lack of any suitable alternative roadway connection. He has called for hiring independent engineers to take a look at the project.

"At some point, I hope we get a plan that shows how CSXT will impact our community and what the benefit will be," he said. "I'd like to know where and what the benefits for our community are going to be. How is our community going to be improved and where is it going to be improved?"

O'Brien and CSXT officials said they remain committed to resolving the issues that have been brought up about making the project a reality.

"We have been able to narrow the issues and focus on the most important and that includes Putnam Lane," O'Brien said. "I am committed to coming back in three weeks with a deal."

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