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People crowding a subway platform, and there’s clearly no train coming. Boston Globe via Getty Images

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The Boston area’s biggest missed transit infrastructure opportunities, explained

How much better things might be if North and South stations had been directly linked, or Logan Airport built farther from downtown—alas!

Despite seemingly ceaseless efforts to improve it, the Boston region’s transportation infrastructure remains inadequate for an area closing in on 5 million residents.

There are myriad reasons for the inadequacy, which leaves roadways and mass transit chronically congested and prone to delay after delay. One reason? Some missed opportunities from back in the day, decisions and moves that haunt the region today.

Directly linking North and South stations. Two of New England’s busiest transportation hubs remain frustratingly separated in any direct sense, despite several years now of advocacy, including via former governors Bill Weld and Michael Dukakis.

Connecting North and South stations would not only link up every T line save the Blue, but would ease connections for commuter-rail and Amtrak riders. Indeed, such a link would create an unbroken rail route from Maine to D.C.

The current governor, Charlie Baker, is not much of a fan of the link, preferring instead to make much-needed repairs to existing T infrastructure.

Running the Red Line to Route 128 and the Blue Line to Lynn. Back in the 1980s, it was assumed that the Red Line would keep going after Alewife, perhaps as far out as Route 128.

Thanks largely to locally based federal bigwigs such as House Speaker Tip O’Neill and Senator Ted Kennedy, there was enough money for stations at Arlington Center and Arlington Heights, if not additional ones. Local opposition doomed the plan, however.

As for the Blue Line to Lynn, it turns out that the original plan for the route had it going well beyond its northeastern terminus at Wonderland. Logistical and financing problems got in the way; and the plan was dropped long ago.

While a Red Line extension past Alewife is hugely unlikely, a Blue Line extension still periodically comes up for serious consideration, most recently in the state legislature’s 2019 budget negotiations.

Either extension, of course, would open up relatively faster mass transit to more residents, allowing people to settle in areas not as expensive as those closer to the region’s core.

An aerial shot of runways at an airport with a city and water surrounding the runways. Shutterstock

Building Logan Airport farther away from downtown Boston. Who knew flying machines would catch on? Logan Airport dates from aviation’s first couple of decades, so, when the U.S. Army built an airfield on 189 acres of reclaimed tidal basin just after World War I, the spot seemed remote enough not to interfere with a nearby city center where the tallest building wasn’t even 500 feet.

Flash forward nearly a century—the first plane touched down in 1923 at what became Logan—and the proximity of one of the world’s busiest airports to one of the nation’s densest urban areas routinely creates headaches in terms of new development and long-term planning.

It essentially precludes the sort of height—and density of tall buildings—that might alleviate prices in both the residential and commercial markets.

Making the Silver Line truly shine. Speaking of Logan Airport, one of the many infrastructural boxes that officials had hoped to check coming out of the epic Big Dig was a one-seat ride on the new Silver Line from Roxbury to the aviation hub.

That didn’t happen. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority soon became bogged down in simply maintaining the status quo; and the Silver Line continues to function best from South Station through parts of the Seaport District, and to Logan (though that is slowly changing).

And, yes, it’s a T line, but it’s a bus and not a train; and, in some places, it doesn’t even have its own dedicated lane.

Keeping the Green Line’s old A branch. The discontinuation in the late 1960s of the trolley service known colloquially as the Watertown Line was seen as necessary due to the baked-in funding challenges of the recently formed MBTA. Plus, the agency just didn’t have enough trolley cars to go around.

So buses replaced the A branch to areas such as Brighton’s Oak Square and Newton Corner, and one is left to wonder what the greater capacity could have meant in terms of ease of commute and housing prices.


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