WOBURN - Mayor Scott Galvin wants to further advance a proposed transportation initiative that would alleviate traffic congestion in East Woburn by constructing a new slip-ramp onto I-93 from Cedar Street.
In recent days, Galvin has forwarded a proposed order to the City Council that would slate $45,000 towards the hiring of an engineering firm, which would create so-called 25 percent design plans for the slip-ramp concept.
The matter is expected to be referred to committee tonight by the council, which meets at 7 p.m. in City Hall.
According to Ward 5 Alderman Dalene Mercer-Bruen, who has been closely involved with initial discussions about the project, the completion of 25 percent design documents could mark an important milestone for obtaining state and federal funding for the initiative.
Specificially, in order to be declared as eligible for inclusion of the state's Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) funding list, more formal design documents must be submitted for the estimated $8.5 million undertaking.
Mercer-Bruen, who is on vacation this week, hopes to obtain more information about project timelines and other considerations during those committee-level talks.
"In order to get a project number on the TIP list, we need to get that 25 percent design. As to how long that would take, that's one of the questions I still have," Mercer-Bruen explained in a phone interview this morning.
Last October, City Engineer Jay Corey first outlined plans to create a new traffic outlet onto the highway via Cedar Street, which is a dead-end road off of Washington Street by Salem Street that is bordered by BJ's Wholesale and a mix of other commercial entities.
Besides being supported by Galvin and Mercer-Bruen, Cummings Properties — Woburn's largest private landowner — has also been a vocal advocate of the traffic congestion fix.
Predicting the resulting traffic relief on Washington Street would unleash a beneficial ripple effect in Stoneham, Reading, and Winchester, proponents of the new I-93 connection also contend the relatively cheap transportation project could help with peak-hour traffic pressures by the I-93/95 cloverleaf.
What we intend to show as part of a functional design report to [the Mass. Dept. of Transportation (MassDOT)] is that by putting in this ramp and taking traffic off Washington Street, you remove some of the congestion by the interchange," said Corey in a presentation to the City Council last fall.
Engineering firm Stantec, responsible for the project's initial design documents, was first asked in the winter of 2018 to study a slip-ramp concept that included a two-lane connection onto the highway. However, in light of the dead-end Cedar Street's nexus with abutting commercial properties, as well as the proximity of an existing merger lane from the I-95 cloverleaf, the city consultant declared the one-lane highway connection as the most viable option.
Because the slip-ramp construction as proposed could entail some level of land takings, as well as the realignment a handful of commercial abutters' parking lots, Cummings Properties' involvement in a year-long advocacy campaign could prove pivotal as the city pitches the highway initiative to state planners.
According to Cummings CEO Dennis Clarke, key abutters such as BJ's Wholesale and Kelly Nissan have already indicated their support for the project.
The idea of erecting a slip-ramp onto I-93 from Cedar Street was first floated nearly two decades ago as part of MassHighway's doomed 2001 version of an I-93/95 interchange replacement project.
Under that ill-fated design, state transportation planners proposed the construction of a sprawling flyover ramp system that would have required widespread takings of private homes in Woburn, Reading, and Stoneham.
The slip-ramp was pitched as a temporary measure that would be implemented during the eventual construction of that cloverleaf replacement. However, in the face of a public uproar, MassHighway (now MassDOT) created a special task force in 2002 to reconsider the project.
Ultimately, that 2001 design was shelved in favor of an two potential alternatives, one of which was advanced by MassDOT in 2007.
However, with the timeline for that $300 million highway infrastructure project since delayed on multiple occasions, Mercer-Bruen and Corey — who both sat on the interchange task force — last year suggested the Cedar Street connection as a viable and cheaper way to address traffic backups that seem to be getting worse by the day.