Nonprofit claims MassDOT ‘illegally eliminated’ HOV lane on Interstate 93

BOSTON (WHDH) - A nonprofit organization based in Boston announced that it plans to sue the Massachusetts Department of Transportation over its “short-sighted” decision to “illegally eliminate” the high occupancy vehicle lane on Interstate 93 south in Somerville and Medford earlier this year.

The state opened the HOV lane to all traffic on May 14 after officials argued that construction and reduced lanes on the Tobin Bridge made the change necessary.

MassDOT spokesperson Jacquelyn Goddard said they do not plan to make this condition permanent, adding that it is “one of several temporary measures being undertaken by MassDOT to relieve North Shore congestion for all travelers related to the Route 1 Chelsea Viaduct and the Tobin Bridge projects.”

The Conservation Law Foundation says Bay Staters who carpool and use public transit are now being punished by the change, which has resulted in much slower commute times into the city from points north of Boston. The group is now calling on the state to reverse the decision right away.

“With the daily traffic nightmare on our roads, opening this lane to all cars is short-sighted, slows commutes for bus riders, and violates the law,” said Staci Rubin, senior attorney at CLF. “Punishing people for carpooling and taking public transit is the exact opposite of good policy. For the sake of our environment and the health and well-being of residents north of Boston, the state must realize its mistake and undo this change immediately.”

CLF delivered the notice of intent to sue on Tuesday. The state has 60 days to respond before the lawsuit is officially filed.

Goddard says that “MassDOT looks forward to meeting with CLF in the near future to address the group’s concerns.”

The HOV lane is a required component of CLF’s previous settlement with the state regarding mitigation from Big Dig emissions, and removing it violates the Clean Air Act and state law, according to the group.

CLF sued the state in the early 1990s to push for better transportation options as a result of the Big Dig. The settlement required a number of projects, including the Green Line Extension, the Red-Blue Line Rail Connector, and the creation and maintenance of high occupancy vehicle lanes.

Chris Dempsey, Director of Transportation for Massachusetts, has also criticized MassDOT’s decision.

“MassDOT’s decision to eliminate priority for bus riders and carpoolers goes against its own stated goal of moving more people in fewer vehicles, and should be reversed immediately,” Dempsey said. “Decisions like this one have left Greater Boston with the worst traffic congestion in the country. We applaud the Conservation Law Foundation for taking legal action to protect commuters and the environment.”

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