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MBTA to seek developer to replace Alewife garage with something new, exciting and not crumbling

Banker & Tradesman reports the MBTA is looking to turn the giant frown that is the crumbling garage at Alewife station into a smile by letting a developer replace it with something that would be the ultimate in transit-oriented development. The T acknowledges it would have to work closely with a developer to ensure construction wouldn't disrupt transit service, so more like the work at South Station than the work at Haymarket.

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Comments

I remember being here when the station opened in 1985. Is it having a subsidence issue because of the wetland? If so, how will they make sure its replacement doesn't?

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Voting closed 33

My bet is it's crumbling for the same reason the garage under UMass Boston is: corruption in the building trades leading to use of substandard materials in the construction.

But that's pure speculation.

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corruption in the building trades leading to use of substandard materials in the construction.

That wouldn't surprise me in the least, and I'm sure the maintenance over the decades hasn't been as comprehensive as one might hope.

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If people would stop driving there cars into walls, off the roof the Alewife garage wouldn't be crumbling. ;)

There's something to be said for the swamp theory as well.

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It's been gone for five years. Where it used to be is now green space.

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Voting closed 19

Alewife Station is built on a swamp. It is SINKING by an inch every few years. This is why the garage is in such rough shape. But to be fair, that garage was built 40 years ago.

I think a replacement will have better drainage, and I think they can deal with the sinking with better pilings, which I don't think was done in the 1980s when the garage went up.

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Voting closed 34

But the state built it all the same, just to show them.

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No singing

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So you're saying the fourth one will stay up?

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I mean, there's a whole Boston neighborhood whose name reflects the fact it was a bay back in the day (and there are some pretty big, heavy buildings there, like Trinity Church, the BPL and a couple of 60-story skyscrapers).

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Is the sound a swallow makes on its migratory path.

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African or European?

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...was built in a swamp.

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The French Quarter was specifically sited on a bluff to avoid what happens to the rest of the city when hurricanes hit. It gets cut off, but doesn't flood like the rest of the area.

Kind of like our older cities are built up off the water.

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Voting closed 19

That sank into the swamp.

So they built the T a third time. That one burned down, fell over and then sank into the swamp, with a bunch of slow zones.

But the fourth one, lad, that's the one you'll be getting (end of this year). The strongest T in all these lands.

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It opened in 1985.

(If I attended the opening of something, I don't consider it old enough to already need replacement if it was properly built.)

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Its OK Ron, its OK to admit you are old.

I am old too.

The parking garage is old. 40 years is a long time.

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I grew up in a pre-war (WW I) Manhattan apartment building. It's still inhabited.

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I remember that absurdly warm day during Washington's Birthday weekend in February 1985 when I picked up my new Univega Mixte frame bike at the Bicycle Connection in Harvard Square. It was the first new bike that I ever had and the finest machine that I'd ever ridden. My boyfriend and I decided to just keep riding all the way out through Arlington and Lexington before returning to Kenmore ... eventually.

We got to the yet to open Alewife station. It was wide open - no construction fences. We circled around on the dirt "pathways" that underlay the entry level driveways and bus lanes, exploring the station before it was finished.

It was the second half of my Freshman year and I was still 17, so I'm no where near old now, of course ;-) ha ha ha!

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Hmm, are we going to get something like Assembly Row? How about Woodland Station? Or Station Landing? If we're lucky and ask nicely, maybe the 80s charm of the Kendall Marriott.

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Is what to do about the 2,700 spaces in that garage. Saying "use the Fitchburg Line" isn't an answer because the stations along the Commuter Rail line don't have enough capacity to accommodate people who currently drive to Alewife to take the Red Line. Plus for people who currently work along the Red Line and take the subway, some would likely switch to driving the entire way if the transit option becomes Fitchburg Line + change at Porter.

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Voting closed 30

I'm assuming your question is about parking while Alewife is under construction. As for afterwards, Alewife is only 4 stories tall - shorter than most of the buildings in the office/apartment complex behind it. It could have a taller garage with an adjoining residential/commercial building attached to the station, or be a parking podium for the mixed-use building above.

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More likely to have more extensive ground-level retail with parking above that. Given the foot and bike and transit traffic, that makes a lot more sense for the area.

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What happens while the replacement project is underway, and also how many parking spaces are planned for the replacement. I get that something taller could be built, but what will the City permit in the end?

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...anyway.

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And the Fitchburg line runs more-or-less parallel to Rt. 2. There are some trips for which the Fitchburg Line is comparable to driving to Alewife for the Red Line, and there are a lot where it just doesn't work as well.

Take someone who works in biotech in Kendall Sq and lives in Concord. You can get there by changing at Porter, but that change adds trip time and another point of failure. If the MBTA ran a reliable subway system it wouldn't be so bad, but if a delay on the Red Line means you miss your train at Porter and the next one is an hour later, then just driving the whole way starts to look increasingly attractive.

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it is built future-proofed for an extension to 128 or beyond. If all transit lines went beyond 128 and had large terminal stations, that would help reduce the awful traffic in the urban core.

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A lot of towns would have to get the sticks out of their asses first. IIRC, the Red Line was initially meant to go out to Lexington (or better yet, Waltham) but there was a lot of opposition from certain very vocal corners of Arlington.

The fuss people are raising over the (very mild) Communities Act doesn't give me much hope that more towns will agree to having public transit in their borders, practicalities and sensibility be damned.

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The composition of the electorate in Arlington has changed A LOT in the last 40 years. I suspect they wouldn't be quite so hostile these days.

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"those people" would be able to move to the protected zones. The Braintree Red Line only stops at JFK to prevent the South Shore residents from having to ride with the masses living in Dorchester. The run from Alewife to Concord should have been completed 20 years ago.

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Yes, it had a lot to do with racist NIMBY behavior. but there was a second problem: Alewife sized-stations fed by 2 lane local roads was also a non-starter.

The NIMBY contingent was still hypothesizing urban masses converging to rob their sainted suburban spaces via bikes when the Minuteman came through. We had a neighbor who was spouting that even though there were studies in the late 80s that demonstrated property value rises next to recreation trails. Idiot is probably a trumper now, but moved to Billerica shortly after (they always brought the kids back to trick-or-treat because walking ...)

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The existing station has a "tail track" that extends considerably northward. It's now used for storing trains during off-peak hours and overnight. But it was designed so that it could be used as the first leg of an extension to Arlington, Lexington, and beyond.

It's highly unlikely that any proposed new development would extend so far northward as to interfere with the use (or extension) of the tail track. I think the track extends almost to Route 2, if not beyond. And it's actively in use on a daily basis.

I suspect that the biggest obstacle to extending the Red Line in that direction is that the construction would require digging up the Minuteman Bikeway, and closing it for several years.

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Tearing up the Minuteman would lead to mass suicide threats on the level of Okinawa 1945 from the bike crowd and the Arl/Lex crowd.

The Red Line should go west to Waltham along the Fitchburg main line.

What a great way to switch Boston to a Paris like mixed commuter rail and subway track system over the existing tracks.

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If the MBTA proposed a serious plan to extend the RL to Burlington, there would be plenty of support from cyclists who would be benefitted by the extension too. I

But there is zero chance that a multibillion dollar extension of the RL northward is going to be seriously proposed by anyone in authority within the next few decades so it's a moot point. The issue isn't opposition, it's funding.

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Do you realize the number of houses which would have to be taken out just along Books Avenue and Lakehill Ave in Arlington for a subway extension?

Uproot hundreds of people in order to dump people out into Boston's version of Falls Church VA?

Funding would be a secondary concern.

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What are you on about this time? Did you just pick something on the map for panic value? Those houses would lose backyard space that they don't own, and never paid taxes on, maybe. No more so than the green line did in Medford.

I think the real issue would be that the MBTA had land for stations that it has since sold for development - like where the Trader Joe's and assisted living places are now in Arlington Heights.

Another serious issue: flooding from Millbrook and Alewife Brook would massively complicate any construction and any hope of resilience on the corridor. The path turns into a spillway after heavy rains and floods out on the Alewife end, too.

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And plenty of opposition from homeowners, some of whom are also cyclists.

But it's a moot point since expansion of the RL is way, way down on the list of MBTA needs and expansion requests.

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...when the Red Line was extended from Harvard to Alewife?

Zero.

No one was uprooted, and no one was dumped anywhere.

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On Purpose. They had the money. Also, Mass Ave is a hell of a lot wider than the Minuteman to work under.

That's why Porter is just above hell in terms of being below the surface.

Harvard and Porter on the surface aren't that far apart. They went deep because Tip would have caught hell in his district.

If you really think the Feds are going to cough up dough to bury the Red Line through Arlington and Lexington that deep, I would think again.

The Red Line, if extended, would be at grade from Arlington Heights on.

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Because it has to be below the Fitchburg Line, too, then by that point they were far enough down they could build it in bedrock rather than clay, so they went down because it was less expensive, not more. Porter and Harvard are subsurface, it's not because Tip said "I want a deep station." (Probably not, anyway, I need to ask Fred about all of this.)

Any extension would probably be shallow tunnel under Lake Street and then have to go deeply under Arlington and the stream just past there, but it's possible that it could be just subterranean and go above the stream. Gets trickier past there, there are a bunch of undergrade bridges so it would have to be at-grade (next to a bike path?) or way below, but there's also the stream, etc, and then the overgrade bridges are shared with the stream and also wouldn't have room for a bike path too. And a railroad would probably kill all the trees, too.

A single-track light rail might make more sense, but has lower capacity. Which might be fine since there's so little density out there (thanks for the zoning, guys) that there wouldn't be a ton of demand. One big reason to build it would be to get out to Hanscom/Lincoln Lab where there's a lot of employment, and maybe swinging up the power line ROW to the Burlington Mall / office park area, but that gets to spending real money.

At least right now, the area is low-density enough that it would be very low on the list for rail expansion, and running the highest-capacity trains on the network (Red Line) would be a mismatch.

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It would serve a larger residential and worker population and there is a ROW right to the Weston line.

Elevated above the median above 128 like in Chicago.

You are never getting Lexington to agree to mass transit. People in Lexington aren't going to automatically allow thousands of units of housing east of 128, not when there are $1.5M+ teardowns and a public school population to protect from the unwashed.

As far as asking Fred. I don't think Fred would want any houses taken after what happened to his in the 50's.

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What was the first community that passed zoning to comply with the MBTA Communities Act, with over four times the number of acres that were required?

https://lexobserver.org/2023/04/13/town-meeting-approves-planning-boards...

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Your demonstrated the opposition. Ironically not by the people you cited. But yourself and untrue arguments.

Such a frustrating example, not in there’s opposition, but arguments to oppose is on things not true at all.

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Remember those people? The ones who didn't want passenger jets because of the sacred nature of Lexington and Concord, though they have no problems with jets over Bunker Hill or Dorchester Heights?

You really think they are going to allow the Red Line to go through Lexington Center?

Ha ha ha.

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You mockingly missed or sidestepped my point. You said people will be opposed because people along Books Avenue and Lakehill Ave of Arlington would get booted out.

I pointed out that is untrue. You and I know right of way is kept on the route. But it does demonstrate what likely opposition would try to tell everyone regardless the factually - many genuinely regardless if plans would demand this or not. The way you argue can well be a window in how the opposition would operate.

Which is frustrating or even enraging. Opposing because one don’t want to lose their home is a reasonable position with ways to resolve in many context. But not so much if opposition opposes based on being against losing homes but the homes are not set to be lost at all.

Again that’s my point and not your rebuttal on something I didn’t said at all.

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WR Grace used the area as a chemical dump. Several MBTA employees came down with cancer as a result of working there. In the bowels of the station where the trains are stored looks like a scene from the X files.

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I think you are combining two facts

1. It's gross in the tunnel where they store trains just beyond the station cuz its moist

2. WR Grace's dumping ground was partially found when they were building the old Mishawum station in Woburn as it sits near the containment site as seen in the movie (and book) "A Civil Action".

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The main buildings were to the east but they were at Alewife.

https://alewifeneighbors.org/projects/wrgrace/index.html

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GCP Technologies is Grace, and they're still there, in a collection of old mill buildings and tired office buildings east of Alewife

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IQHQ is redeveloping that entire area now.

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End the slow zones, and get trains back up to speed, end the weekend shutdowns and bus substitutions. This shit has been allowed to go on for way too long. Many of the reasons given by the Department of Transportation for torturing MBTA passengers for years are at best a gross over-reaction, if not outright spurious. And Waiting until 2027 for trains promised years ago is beyond outrageous.

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I'm not disputing the importance of the items on your list, but debates about priorities don't really matter when something is literally falling to pieces. Entropy won't wait for anyone's priorities, and if you ignore it long enough, it becomes a bigger problem than any of those you cite.

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Seems like a good place for a large Mexican restaurant, like a Boston outpost of Casa Bonita near Denver, of South Park fame.

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This is a great location for a huge TOD, with housing, offices, retail, etc. Height should not be an issue here. Build baby build!

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They can probably get around the disruption here because the platforms themselves are built under Route 2 (and actually not directly below, but the bridge is above the bike path which is the roof of the station, so they should be able to operate the station while construction is going on above. They would lose the yard there but could store trains on the platforms (they don't like doing this because, uh, reasons, but it doesn't mean they couldn't) or even use the tail tracks with much caution since it's only a few non-revenue movements per day. So the garage could pretty easily come down without impacting service too, too much.

Earlier question was "how far do the tail tracks go" and the answer is "under Route 2 and to the emergency exit in the middle of the bike path by Thorndike Field." There might be a case to do the following there:

* Convert the middle track to a platform
* Build a new station there, which would reduce the walking time for people coming from Arlington to Alewife (it's close to half a mile)
* Build access to the station with ramps from Thorndike field to the platform and from the platform to the existing middle track that maintenance vehicles could roll in and out of the system at off hours, which would significantly decrease the need to use the track access at the Longfellow Bridge for maintenance activity there.

It wouldn't make sense to just build a station there, but a station which doubled as maintenance access would be nice. Potentially even then build tail tracks under Thorndike Field but a) that's in a swamp and b) it would require tearing out the field and rebuilding it (although a rebuilt field a few feet higher on a concrete box might be a better field).

All of that said, the original plan (I need to Ask Fred about this again) was something like:

* State plans to end Red Line at Alewife with a big yard just west of the station (where a bunch of buildings are now)
* Arlington/Lexington say "build it to 128" and while there wasn't money for that there was to Arlington Heights, so they redesign it with the big curve under Route 2. The yard, which was meant to be the main maintenance yard, was to replace the Eliot Shops near Harvard (now the Kennedy School).
* Arlington says "wait ha nm" because those scary people from Dorchester would take the train out to Arlington to steal televisions and corrupt Arlington Catholic school children (really, the Church was the largest opponent).
* State in the meantime had sold off the land for the yard and was building the design curving north, and had nowhere to store equipment, so once the Eliot Shops closed there was going to be nowhere to maintain the Red Line. So they wound up building Cabot, which also means building the mile-long yard leads from JFK/UMass (Malfunction Junction) and a lot of extra flyovers to facilitate bringing trains in and out of service, since the trains come into service facing the wrong way and have to run outbound and then turn or change ends on the platform. Having Cabot Yard in the "wrong" place probably adds millions of dollars of operational cost and complexity per year.
* Oh also the 2019 Red Line derailment (5 years ago this week, seems like half a century) sort of kicked off a bunch of slow orders and then the current "oh, shit, actually the Baker admin didn't do any maintenance but just pushed money out the door chasing god-knows-what" although it really wasn't until Eng and the current DPU came in and realized they hadn't even kept track of what they did do that they started the massive shutdown program.

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Build access to the station with ramps from Thorndike field to the platform and from the platform to the existing middle track that maintenance vehicles could roll in and out of the system at off hours, which would significantly decrease the need to use the track access at the Longfellow Bridge for maintenance activity there.

This is called Alewife Backdoor, and is in planning.

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