Exchange South End Hits Snag with State Environmental Officials on Traffic

State environmental regulators have determined that the monumental Exchange South End project does not yet comply with their regulations, particularly in regard to traffic – setting the project back a bit and requiring a longer state review process.

“I hereby determine that the DEIR submitted on this project does not adequately and properly comply with the (state environmental regulations) and requires the filing of a Supplemental DEIR,” read the letter from Matthew Beaton, state Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary. “Specifically, the (filing) must provide additional data and analyses of the transportation issues and access alternatives identified by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT)…As detailed below, the DEIR did not fully provide the additional information and analysis regarding the project’s transportation-related impacts identified (in other filings). The proponent must provide additional information about the project’s site access, impacts on the roadway network, and feasibility and effectiveness of proposed mitigation measures.”

The twist in the road for Exchange is something the Abbey Group said would simply be part of an ongoing project.

“This is part of an iterative process,” said Jason Epstein, managing partner of the Abbey Group. “We will continue to work with MEPA on providing the necessary data as part of the ongoing review.”

One of the key problems in the state review is that MassDOT had significant concerns about traffic that weren’t address.

That was nothing new at the community level as many members of the project’s Impact Advisory Group (IAG) left the project rather frustrated with the lack of planning for transportation. Over the many months of meetings with the IAG, members continued to ask for a new set of eyes to analyze the traffic numbers and traffic flows for the entire South End – as the project calls for anywhere from 4,000 to 7,000 employees coming per day.

A critical and key concern by MassDOT is the supposedly proposed connection to Frontage Road and I-93 from the site. MassDOT said the modeling of traffic congestion was inconsistent and the critical connector seemed to be up in the air.

“The build…condition is based on the implementation of the BioSquare Drive connection to the I-93 Southbound Frontage Road by the City of Boston in coordination with MassDOT and (federal agencies),” read the letter. “Because the connection has not been fully analyzed and its implementation status is unknown, it is not possible to evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed mitigation measures. In addition, the City’s plans to redesign and reconstruct Albany Street may affect the traffic operations modelled in the DEIR.”

In addition, Beaton asked that Exchange catalog all mitigation measures, including construction-period mitigation. That section asks for much clearer communication about the mitigation measures, when they will be implemented and how much they will cost. Most importantly, Beaton said they want to have everything spelled out and put on a timeline so that each phase of the project is mitigated at the proper time.

Overall, however, the supplemental filing will take time, but it is to be focused mostly on traffic and transportation.

“The DEIR did not provide sufficient documentation and analysis of the project’s transportation impacts and mitigation measures,” the letter read. “It did not provide analyses requested in the DEIR Scope, including detailed documentation of the BioSquare Drive connection to the I-93 Southbound Frontage Road.”

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