Charles R. advocates not on board with Soldier’s Field bypass

By Emily Norton, Laura Jasinski, and Kane Larin
Letter to the Editor
CommonWealth Magazine

On Monday, CommonWealth reported that although “[n]o one thought putting a structure out over the Charles would sit well with the river’s many enthusiasts, [ ] Mike O’Dowd, the project manager, says the idea has been well received by boating groups and others who regularly use the Charles.” O’Dowd  further said that “[t]here is no reason all the current activities on the river couldn’t continue during construction.” (To hear his remarks to the state transportation boards, click here at 1:58:20.)

These statements do not accurately reflect the position of Charles River advocates.

Until recently, MassDOT’s project team, led by O’Dowd, had professed their intent to avoid impacts to the Charles River during construction of the I-90 interchange project. Indeed, last fall, MassDOT declared that the temporary effects on parks and open space of the selected design would be limited to fully occupying the “throat area” and relocating the Paul Dudley White Path. Then in May, MassDOT did an about-face, announcing a proposal to “temporarily” locate Soldiers Field Road and the Paul Dudley White Path in the Charles River for an estimated period of up to 10 years.

Based on information currently available to us, locating the road in the Charles River would significantly disrupt the river and those who use it for nearly a decade, if not longer. Nothing we have seen so far suggests that MassDOT has sufficiently planned to mitigate impacts like storm water runoff, increased contamination levels, or habitat and sediment disturbance. This is especially troubling at a time when the Charles is already seeing increases in toxic algae blooms, triggering public health alerts and warnings for people and pets to stay away from the water.

The rowing and boating community’s ability to use the river is also at stake. Contrary to Mr. O’Dowd’s reported statements, as a river user community, we have not indicated support for the proposed plans. We are still gathering information and assessing the road’s impacts on our use of an already constrained watersheet throughout the construction period. At present, we believe those impacts are likely to be significant.

All of this is why our organizations and other advocates wrote to MassDOT and the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board in September to express our “deep concerns” about the proposal to locate Soldiers Field Road in the river for an estimated period of up to 10 years, which we found “alarming.”

We urged MassDOT to avoid river impacts, conduct a thorough alternatives analysis, and minimize impacts if it was ultimately determined that some impacts could not be avoided. We also urged the project team to do all of this in an open, collaborative setting with the project task force and state permitting agencies like the Departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Recreation. To date, none of this has happened.

To suggest that Charles River advocates and enthusiasts are on board with a road being located in the river for a decade or more is a gross mischaracterization of our position and ignores our ongoing efforts to raise concerns about the serious harm this would cause to the river and river users. We will continue to voice these concerns, because the future of the Charles depends on it.

Emily Norton is executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association, Laura Jasinski is executive director of the Charles River Conservancy, and Kane Larin is in charge of special projects for Community Rowing Inc.

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Unlocking the Charles River (Letter to the Editor)

Boston Globe

In his op-ed, Mike Ross laments that the banks of the Charles River are not as lively as those of the Vltava River in Prague (“Our beautiful, boring Charles River,” Opinion, Dec. 22). While this observation was the fruitful result of what sounds like a fun trip to Europe, one doesn’t need to be a world traveler to know that one aspect of the shoreline of the Charles inhibits its activation. The parks on the river’s edge are very difficult to reach from the adjacent neighborhoods, since they are cut off by highways such as Storrow Drive and the Mass Pike. Such connectivity to neighborhoods exists in cities with more lively riverfronts, including Prague and Paris. In Boston, nowhere is this problem more pronounced than in the stretch between the Boston University and River Street bridges. The I-90 Allston Interchange Project, if properly designed, could dramatically improve connectivity between the river and the Allston neighborhood. Rebuilding I-90 at grade could allow Commonwealth Avenue and Brookline to be connected to the Charles near the Agganis Arena, for example, which would provide the opportunity to create a riverfront more like the one Mr. Ross imagines. Let’s not miss this once-in-a-lifetime chance.

Rafael Mares
Conservation Law Foundation

Renata von Tscharner
Charles River Conservancy

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Massive turnpike project could improve Allston

Boston Globe

ANTHONY FLINT’S retrospective on the Big Dig offers useful lessons as we move forward with similar mega-projects, not least the massive Massachusetts Turnpike realignment in Allston (“10 years later, did the Big Dig deliver?” Magazine, Dec. 29).

While the rebuilt artery succeeds in moving cars through the downtown, Flint makes clear that its real success is measured above ground, along the Rose Kennedy Greenway. I hope MassDOT’s planners are taking notes.

The turnpike project will move a lot of cars too, but will it also create a beautiful riverfront park? Will new paths for cyclists and pedestrians allow them easily to reach the Charles River? Will connections be created between the severed halves of North and South Allston? Will a fully accessible transit hub promote new service across the river to Kendall Square?

The turnpike project could be the catalyst for brilliant place-making or “value capture,” to use Flint’s term. It could open a new chapter in city-building, but only if the engineers can see past the cars to take in the full range of possibilities.

Brent Whelan

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