WOBURN - State transportation officials hope to break ground on the long-awaited New Boston Street Bridge restoration project later this summer, according to a recently published environmental impact notice.
Appearing in the March 24 edition of the Mass. Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) office's "Environmental Monitor", the five-page Environmental Notification Form (ENF) explains that work on reconstructing the three-span bridge and the New Boston Street right-of-way that leads up to the site should commence in August.
"The project proposes to reconstruct approximately 1,850 feet of New Boston Street, including reestablishing a 3-span bridge with two piers that cross over the New Hampshire Main Line of the MBTA Commuter Rail," reads a description of the infrastructure project, which will re-establish key connections between North Woburn and East Woburn by Anderson Regional Transportation Center.
"The cross sections of the bridge will consist of two 11-foot travel lanes in each direction, 5-foot outside shoulders, and 5.5-foot sidewalks separated by guardrail," the ENF further explains. "Improvements to New Boston Street include uniform roadway reconstruction, a new driveway connection, and addition of sidewalks. A typical cross section will consist of two 11-foot travel lanes in each direction, 5-foot outside shoulders, and 5.5-foot sidewalks."
Authored by engineers at the Mass. Department of Transportation (MassDOT), the ENF is being filed in order to notify MEPA officials of the state's latest plans to clearcut a number of shade trees that are standing within the future construction zone.
The MEPA office falls under the umbrella of a larger state agency known as the Executive Office for Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA).
Under MEPA regulations, both public agencies and private developers must obtain the EOEEA approval before breaking ground on any project that requires the issuance of state financial assistance and permits and also exceeds certain environmental thresholds.
Normally, MEPA reviews include detailed analyses around a proposed new development's anticipated traffic, wetlands, and stormwater impacts.
Though the $23.5 million bridge project will indeed divert an estimated 17,000 vehicles away from smaller residential side streets in North Woburn and Wilmington that lead to an industrial zone off New Boston Street, those environmental effects were already addressed in previous MEPA submissions from 2010.
Those previous MEPA filings also addressed how the state plans to mitigate the addition of 1.18 acres of new impervious surface, as well as planned upgrades to nearby drainage channels and associated culverts.
Because the most significant New Boston Street bridge impacts have already been addressed through a previous MEPA review, MassDOT is arguing that its latest plan to remove shade trees should not trigger another round of more-involved analyses.
Municipal officials in Woburn and Wilmington have been lobbying for decades now to restore the New Boston Street bridge connection that was lost after the old structure was destroyed in a 1972 fire.
Since the bridge was first lost nearly a half-century ago, the industrial zone along New Boston Street has become a major employment center. According to Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) study commissioned at the behest of Mayor Scott Galvin in 2017, the isolated North Woburn corridor is now home to some 370 businesses that employ more than 5,000 people.
Currently, traffic traveling on New Boston Street is unable to cross the MBTA tracks and is segmented into a north section and a south section. The northern section serves industrial business and only extends approximately 1,000-feet before becoming Woburn Street in the Town of Wilmington," MassDOT representatives pointed out in this month's ENF. "The southern section primarily serves industrial business with some residential homes near its terminus at the School Street/Forest Park Road/New Boston Street intersection."
By rebuilding the bridge, the city will reestablish a traffic connection between North and East Woburn and provide commuters with a more direct route to the commuter rail and highway connections to I-93 off Commerce Way.
City leaders, besides considering the bridge project as key to breaking up traffic gridlock around North Woburn and Wilmington, also believe the $23.5 million infrastructure investment could attract new major employers to the region.
According to the MAPC's 2018 planning study, though most buildings around New Boston Street are single story warehouses and manufacturing buildings, high-tech and bioscience corporations, struggling to find room to expand within urban areas like Cambridge and Boston, may end up considering Woburn as an attractive alternative to those traditional development hubs.