Underground, street level options for I-91 long way from reality

MassDOT is studying whether to potentially move the highway underground or to street level

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – I-91 construction in Springfield will continue for another two years. The 22News I-Team reveals if the state missed an opportunity to make a more significant change.

The state needed to fix the elevated highway before it crumbled and killed someone. If you want to argue that the state should have looked at alternatives years ago, that’s a fair point. But any significant changes being evaluated in a I-91 Viaduct study likely won’t happen for at least 20 years.

$183 million of our tax dollars to repair and reconstruct the 2.5 mile stretch of elevated highway on I-91 through Springfield. At the same time, MassDOT is studying whether to potentially move the highway underground or to street level.

“All of our alternatives are compared to the no build which essentially is a rehabilitation of the existing viaduct,” said Ethan Britland, I-91 Viaduct Study Project Manager.

Leaving the highway above ground is a legitimate long term option and the popular one for a man from Springfield with spoke with.

“I like it how it is now,” said Springfield’s Charlie Robles. He continues, “The view, its a nice view up there when you’re coming through you can the hotels, you can see the river, etc., etc.”

Continuing Coverage: I-91 Reconstruction

Any changes to I-91 through Springfield whether it be moving traffic to ground level or underground likely won’t happen until this new construction falls apart.

“It’s a project of substance and its to last at least two decades,” said Pioneer Valley Planning Commission Executive Director Tim Brennan.

Brennan told 22News there was a lot of disappointment when the state decided to just repair the existing highway.  So this alternative study was a compromise.

“It essentially tries to address your concerns, but not immediately,” said Brennan.

If the state had picked an alternative they probably couldn’t have afford it.  The cost to any major changes to the elevated highway are unknown, but Brennan said it would cost substantially more.

The alternative study will reveal a preferred option next spring.  Then we’ll know how much it would cost.

A MassDOT spokesman told 22News, “That the current 5-year Capital Investment Plan (CIP) does not include any reconstruction projects that could be recommended by the ongoing study of the I-91 viaduct.  The scheduling of any future reconstruction projects will be determined by numerous factors including the recommended design of the project, the condition of the I-91 viaduct, and the prioritization of projects statewide.”

The I-91 Viaduct Study is now looking beyond the viaduct.  It is studying what can be done to eliminate the issues merging in and around the Longmeadow Curve and South End Bridge and is analyzing how I-91 and I-291 could connect more smoothly.  Brennan said it is possible that those projects begin before the next batch of I-91 Viaduct work is needed.