Widett Circle, once slated to become the heart of the Boston Olympics, could instead be turned into a yard for commuter-rail trains
The MBTA said today it's going to try to buy the 24-acre Widett Circle, which our brief Olympics bid lifted out of obscurity only to return to being the home of low-profile food-processing concerns, to use as a place to store commuter-rail trains between the morning and afternoon rush hours.
The T says it will likely also seek to acquire or use additional nearby land now owned by the city of Boston near Widett Circle - which was once dreamed up as home to a 60,000-seat Olympic stadium built atop a platform that could then be used to create a new mini-city after the Olympics.
But with that idea long gone, the T says today:
Existing layover facilities utilized by the MBTA are at or beyond capacity and impose significant operating inefficiencies. This is particularly challenging today due to the limited rail space available near South Station. Locating the layover facility at Widett Circle will reduce the time that trains must layover at South Station, which will increase capacity for additional rail services at the station, such as the future South Coast Rail.
The T initially began looking at Widett Circle, located on the other side of the Southeast Expressway from where it connects with Melnea Cass Boulevard, back in 2016 as part of its plans to expand South Station. Those plans, however, also hinged on the Postal Service moving its giant facility along Fort Point Channel to make way for four new train tracks, something that to date the Postal Service has resisted.
A 2017 MassDOT study on South Station expansion called for the use of Widett Circle and the addition of new tracks to a T rail facility in Hyde Park, near Readville station. Today's announcement is silent on whether the state is still looking to add more tracks in Hyde Park - under plans that also called for construction of sound barriers for residents who have long complained about noise from the current facility.
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The MBTA is no longer a transportation agency
The MBTA has become a real estate agency and the largest landlord in the state.
I'd be interested in seeing that list of landlords. I wonder who/what else is on there?
They now own more land in Boston than they do in Cambridge. As a landlord, they go by the name "Harvard Real Estate, Inc."
Unless I misremember, they own what used to be CSX's Beacon Park Yard in Allston, which otherwise could have been used by the T.
There used to be a lot more railroad yards in Boston. The Prudential Center is built on top of one such.
That doesn't have to be a bad
That doesn't have to be a bad thing. One of few transit agencies that not just runs well but even turns a profit (though being profitable should not be the only way to justify an existence) relies on real estate.
If the MBTA actually does own land and do air rights and adjacent land developments, then this scenario becomes more realistic.
BTW, if someone chimes that the MBTA is too corrupt and thus shouldn't be allowed to have significant independent sources. That's an argument to find a way to reform the MBTA to be like those agencies that have significant funding from real estate rater than keeping the MBTA at the mercy of the state with our current results. Also Massport, the state agency that people most commonly praised as being run well, is self-supported collecting fees from airlines landing in Logan.
You Forgot MEGAPLEX
Bob Kraft and Bill Weld thinking they could pull a fast one on Billy Bulger in the lead up to the Pats / Packers Superbowl and get a football stadium built in the Seaport could be one of the funniest, stupidest political moves in the past 50 years in this state.
Then the unions punch drunk on Bid Dig money tried to get the Megaplex built on Widet Circle when Bill Weld was roasted over the spit by Bulger. The union stickers said "Megaplex / Megajobs".
Thank the maker that sanity prevailed and this land is still available and the Seaport, even with its flaws is a 365 day neighborhood as opposed to 18 to 20 day plus concerts area of parking lots and chain restaurants (Ok, wrong about the last bit).
PS - The postal service was offered up a big piece of land along Southampton Street circa 2005 to relocate. They said nah. My college mailed me something a few weeks back. It took 7 days to go 23 miles. Perhaps it is time we get back Dot Ave from Summer Street to Broadway and USPS is told to take a hike for a better city and better transportation options.
That doesn't seem right
The Summer Street proposal is a well known one, and wikipedia missed a key element in the failure of the proposal- it would involve the taking of Navy land which would have been blocked by South Boston's own Joe Moakley.
The other proposal, and I could be wrong with this, involved "the old incinerator," so the other side of the highway and the tracks from Widett Circle.
It's interesting that Gillette Stadium is derided by "urbanists" for being in the middle of nowhere (no debate here) but conveniently ignore that the other option would have probably resulted in our own version of Nissan Stadium. Better train service would be good, but as I've been saying for 30 years, football stadiums do not belong in the center of a city.
The perfect example of piss poor urban planning.
I had to go to Nashville a few years back (Tried to keep as much cotton in my ears as I could), and looked out my window and said what idiots tied up all that land with a football stadium so close to downtown.
The domed Megaplex stadium was to be where Widett Circle is. The USPS proposal was for where the Silver Line buses and Waldo Brothers was / is now.
I did some research
You have to trust me, but you are wrong about the megaplex going to Widett. Clicking through the Boston Globe database, after the Summer Street proposal, the plan was to bring it over to Newmarket Square. Menino balked since we need meat packing plants somewhere in the city, so that fizzled.
Interestingly, after the Patriots were rebuffed in the area, the Red Sox made a play to build a stadium in the area. Then the trust sold the team to Liverpool FC (or something like that) and the team decided to stay where they were.
Original 1993 Megaplex ideas
Original 1993 Megaplex ideas were going to be in now-Seaport off Northern Avenue (Weld), the South Bay/ Widett area (BRA/ Menino) and "Crosstown" area by BCH/ Melnea Cass (developers)
The biggest farce of the 1993 ideas was that the Red Sox were going to join the Patriots in a multipurpose stadium at one of those spots- right around when teams were going more towards the Camden Yards aesthetic than the 70's donuts/ domes
It was 1993 in the world
But still 1973 in Boston. The fiasco that is the Seaport District, built with minimal transit and no planned amenities like grocery stores was 20 years behind reality out of the gate.
Silver line tunnel was built to be able to convert to light rail, and the two underground stops/first above ground stop are nicely spaced. The planners did what they could at the time.
This comment is so spot-on. It really was 1973 in the minds of Seaport planners! Check out this damning quote:
That’s some world-class gaslighting! I was there in the 1990s and many people were worried about climate change and sea-level rise!
That’s from this WBUR “Here and Now” program, aired in 2021.
you're bloody well right
It's amazing how much people in Boston forget the history of shameless bandits in the recent and fairly recent past, manipulating policy for their own agenda. Far too many things in this town are decided in favor of personal gain of connected individuals and their special interest friends. As for the USPS, they rarely sell anything, and don't ever like anyone telling them what's good for the community, or for them for that matter. Dot Ave should be reopened to the T. For other traffic, it would probably simply transfer the gridlock.
I don't think it was all that forgotten in 2015
Remember the Summer Olympics bid? That went down in flames because people sniffed out the grift and said no, not because "people were grumpy because of the snow", as the boosters whinged.
Most were aware that "We'll fix the T" meant "We'll take all the buses for shuttles" and that a huge land grab and development scam was afoot. Throw in Montreal's experience and stir.
Reclaiming Dorchester Avenue
I'd also like to see it reopened to pedestrians and bikes (and scooters, skateboarders, etc.)
It took two weeks for an one
It took two weeks for an one price envelope to go from JP to HP.
MBTA is out of rail yard space
It's well established that the MBTA is out of rail yard storage for its trainsets now. South Bay Yard is at capacity and the MBTA needs to expand available rail cars.
They are already storing trains at layover facilities overnight such as Needham, Kingston, Rockport and Pawtucket. However the space they need to service outgoing trains each morning is limited.
Widett already hosts the rail yard's South Loop and the car wash machine.
If they ever invest in electric units those will need space to be stored and serviced. They want to expand overnight storage at Readville but the neighborhood is opposing it. If you want public transit you need to have space for the trains when not in use or being serviced.
As to the MBTA owning property, that is true and they own a lot of weird lots all over the place that were left over from the stoppage of the various highways stopped by Gov. Sargent.
They definitely store in
They definitely store in Readville and leave their trains running all night.
They haven't been using the yard at Needham at all lately
Before the pandemic, they regularly had trains laying over at Needham, but I haven't seen anything there in a couple years now.