Route Changes May Bring More Hazardous Materials Through Cambridge and Somerville

In 2009, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration directed the city of Boston to conduct a risk analysis of alternative Non-Radioactive Hazardous Materials (NRHM) transport routes through the city. The City of Boston has prepared an evaluation of trucking routes and has concluded that transportation of hazardous materials through the streets of downtown poses too great of a risk to public safety, and such materials should instead be taken around the downtown area through alternate routes. 

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which has been named as the routing authority on this issue, held the first of a series of four public meetings that will take place over the next two weeks to discuss the routing changes with the public. I am particularly concerned about how these routing changes will affect residents of Cambridge and Somerville. Because hazardous materials are prohibited from being transported in the I-93 tunnel, trucks must use surface roads to carry their cargos through Boston. If they are prohibited from using streets, however, they may opt to use a route that would take them through Cambridge and Somerville. Trucks travelling on I-93 would be routed around the tunnels using Washington Street, McGrath Highway, Land Boulevard, Binney Street, Main Street, Mass Ave, and Western Ave to reach I-90.

Map of one of the route alternatives being considered..

Trucks would use I-90 in combination with I-95 to transport hazardous materials through the Boston area.

I am disturbed by the possibility that large volumes of hazardous materials, including explosives, flammable liquids, and poisonous substances, will be transported through dense residential and commercial areas of Cambridge. The area around Binney Street will be built out extensively in the coming years, making the area even denser. The route’s proximity to MIT’s Nuclear Reactor and the requirement that trucks cross the Grand Junction train tracks are also cause for concern. 

I hope to see any decision made about a designated route would be one that uses Route 128, which would keep hazardous materials in sparsely populated areas and out of dense urban neighborhoods. Unfortunately, there is not an enforcement mechanism readily available to keep trucks from cutting through Cambridge and Somerville, although they would indeed be ticketed by Boston Police were they to enter the streets of downtown. I will be exploring this issue in more detail in the coming weeks, and will be discussing solutions with my colleagues. Should you desire more information about changes in hazardous materials routing, I would encourage you to attend one of the remaining three meetings:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Thomas Crane Public Library
40 Washington Street
Quincy, MA 02169
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Clark Government Center
Main Auditorium
119 School Street Waltham, MA 02451
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Stoneham Town Hall Auditorium
35 Central Street,
Stoneham, MA 02180
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

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