Long term solutions: What could become of I-91 in Springfield?

Tunnel, higher viaduct, relocation to West Springfield all among possibilities

MassDOT photos showing possibilities for I-91 through downtown, including from upper left to lower right: an at-grade highway, a dug-out highway, a tunnel, and a higher viaduct.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Major work is underway on the project to replace the elevated section of Interstate 91 through downtown Springfield, but that may not be the permanent solution for the highway.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is currently investigating several possibilities for changing the way traffic flows in the downtown area- solutions that could include everything from moving the highway to the other side of the river, to digging a tunnel through downtown.

Recommendations and a final report on a long-term solution for I-91 are expected later this year. Meanwhile, the current project to rehabilitate the elevated portion of I-91 is expected to be complete in 2018.

Here is a look at some of the possibilities being studied by MassDOT, along with some of the pros and cons:
(Vote in our poll at the bottom of the article)

1. Keep the new viaduct as it is

Pros:

  • New enhancements will last 20 years or more
  • No need for additional utility work or land taking

Cons:

  • Viaduct continues to block downtown from riverfront
  • Railroad line continues to block access to riverfront
  • Viaduct must undergo occasional maintenance

2. Rebuild I-91 at street level

Pros:

  • I-91 no longer blocks view from downtown to riverfront
  • Reduced maintenance costs

Cons:

  • Increased traffic noise
  • Parking garages would have to be demolished
  • Railroad line continues to block access to riverfront
  • Overpasses would need to be built crossing highway
  • Utility lines would have to be moved
  • Possible effects on nearby parkland

3. Build I-91 in a dugout section through downtown Springfield

Pros:

  • I-91 no longer blocks view from downtown to riverfront
  • Allows streets to connect with riverfront at grade level
  • Reduces road noise

Cons:

  • Would require heavy excavation and building of retaining walls
  • I-91/I-291 interchange would need to be rebuilt
  • Exit ramps would need to be rebuilt
  • Land takings would be necessary, causing disruption to nearby neighborhoods
  • Utility lines would have to be moved
  • Concerns about Connecticut River levee system
  • Loss of parking garages underneath highway
  • Railroad line continues to block access to riverfront

4. Build I-91 in dugout section, move railroad to West Springfield

Pros:

  • I-91 no longer blocks view from downtown to riverfront
  • Allows streets to connect with riverfront at grade level
  • Reduces road noise
  • Removes railroad as a barrier to riverfront access for most of downtown

Cons:

  • Would require construction of new railroad bridge from Longmeadow to Agawam
  • Significant new railroad reconstruction
  • I-91/I-291 interchange would need to be rebuilt
  • Exit ramps would need to be rebuilt
  • Land takings would be necessary, causing disruption to nearby neighborhoods
  • Utility lines would have to be moved
  • Concerns about Connecticut River levee system
  • Loss of parking garages underneath highway

5. Build tunnel through downtown Springfield

Pros:

  • I-91 no longer blocks view from downtown to riverfront
  • Allows greater access to riverfront from downtown area

Cons:

  • Significant excavation and construction needed
  • Exits 5 and 6 would likely have to be permanently removed
  • I-91/I-291 interchange would need to be rebuilt
  • Extensive maintenance costs for tunnel
  • Exhaust mitigation needed to maintain air quality in tunnel
  • Concerns about water table and levee system
  • Property takings and neighborhood disruptions would be necessary
  • Utility lines would have to be reconfigured
  • Railroad line continues to block access to riverfront

6. Build a higher elevated section through downtown

Pros:

  • Increased height would allow more flow of light to streets below
  • Could be a “signature structure” for downtown Springfield
  • Current parking garages maintained
  • Street-level infrastructure maintained

Cons:

  • Elevated structure would continue to disconnect downtown from riverfront
  • Viaduct will need maintenance
  • I-91/I-291 intersection would need to be rebuilt
  • Property takings and neighborhood disruptions would be necessary
  • Utility lines would need to be reconfigured

7. Realign Route 5 with new bridge (plan would include building I-91 in dugout section through downtown)

Pros:

  • I-91 no longer blocks view from downtown to riverfront
  • Allows streets to connect with riverfront at grade level
  • Separates congestion between Interstate 91 and Route 5
  • Reduces road noise
  • Could allow green development along I-91 corridor

Cons:

  • Construction of new bridge over Connecticut River between Longmeadow and Agawam
  • Would require heavy excavation and building of retaining walls
  • I-91/I-291 interchange would need to be rebuilt
  • Exit ramps would need to be rebuilt
  • Land takings would be necessary, causing disruption to nearby neighborhoods in both Springfield and Agawam
  • Utility lines would have to be moved
  • Concerns about Connecticut River levee system
  • Loss of parking garages underneath highway
  • Railroad line continues to block access to riverfront

8. Move I-91 to Agawam and West Springfield

Pros:

  • Removes I-91 as a barrier to access between downtown and the riverfront
  • Removes traffic noise on Springfield side of river
  • Allows for green development opportunities

Cons:

  • Would require construction of new bridge between Longmeadow and Agawam
  • Would merge Route 5 and I-91 traffic
  • May require tunnel underneath Riverdale Street commercial area
  • Would require property takings and disruptions in Agawam and West Springfield
  • Extensive relocation of utility lines
  • Concerns about water table and levee system

9. Split northbound and southbound sides of I-91 on opposite sides of the river (would involve dugout or tunnel section through downtown Springfield on I-91 northbound)

Pros:

  • Would improve access between downtown and riverfront
  • Northbound-only corridor through downtown reduces impact of highway on downtown area
  • Allows for three or four lanes at Longmeadow curve and smoother Route 5 merge

Cons:

  • Requires construction of new bridge between Longmeadow and Agawan
  • Would have significant impacts on Route 5
  • I-91/I-291 intersection would need to be rebuilt
  • Concerns about levees and water table
  • Property takings and neighborhood disruptions necessary
  • Exhaust mitigation needed if tunnel constructed
  • No direct connection between downtown Springfield and I-91 southbound

10. Move I-91 to existing railroad right-of way, move railroad to west side of river

Pros:

  • Viaduct no longer obstruction to views or access to riverfront (highway would be dug out)
  • Railroad line no longer blocking access from downtown to riverfront
  • Allows for green development along riverfront

Cons:

  • Would require new railroad bridge between Longmeadow and Agawam
  • Significant impacts in Agawam and West Springfield
  • I-91/I-291 interchange would need to be rebuilt
  • Property takings would be necessary
  • Concerns about levee system on both sides of river
  • Utility lines would need to be relocated on both sides of river

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