For Priority Trails-To-Transit Projects, MBTA Can’t Get Out of Its Own Way

A rendering of a proposed Mystic River bike and pedestrian bridge, which could connect the Northern Strand multi-use path in the City of Everett to the Assembly Orange Line Station in Somerville. Rendering by AECOM, courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.
A rendering of a proposed Mystic River bike and pedestrian bridge, which could connect the Northern Strand multi-use path in the City of Everett to the Assembly Orange Line Station in Somerville. Rendering by AECOM, courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Today’s Boston Globe reports on the ongoing efforts to build a new bike and pedestrian bridge over the Mystic River to connect Everett to the Assembly Orange Line stop, and how administrative bottlenecks at the MBTA are hampering the project in spite of broad financial and political support.

Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria is extremely eager to connect his city, on the eastern side of the Mystic and Malden Rivers, to the Orange Line, which runs along the western banks. The owners of the new Encore Casino have committed $25 million to build a new bridge across the Mystic, which could create a scenic 1/2-mile path from the casino to the doorstep of the MBTA’s Assembly station.

But making the final connection into the station itself will require coordination from the MBTA, and “convincing the T staff to add this work to its already full slate has not been easy for the mayor, to say the least,” writes Globe business reporter Jon Chesto.

The story bears a striking resemblance to the history of another trail project in Fenway, where the City of Boston and MassDOT have been trying to build a short extension of the Muddy River multi-use path under Park Drive to the Landsdowne commuter rail station, alongside the D branch of the Green Line.

The proposed route of the Fenway "Greenlinks" project, which would extend the Muddy River multi-use path under Park Drive to the Landsdowne MBTA station near Kenmore Square. Courtesy of MassDOT.
The proposed route of the Fenway “Greenlinks” project, which would extend the Muddy River multi-use path under Park Drive to the Landsdowne MBTA station near Kenmore Square. Courtesy of MassDOT.

It’s a short connection, but it would let trail users avoid dangerous crossings on Park Drive and the Riverway, and it would create a direct link between the Framingham/Worcester commuter rail line and the Longwood Medical Center.

In the fall of 2017, MassDOT and the City of Boston announced a preliminary design for the trail and predicted that construction could begin in 2019.

In an email message, Patrick Marvin, a MassDOT spokesperson, reported that the project has since been split into phases. A short section in the single block between the Fenway Green Line stop and Miner Street was completed this summer by the private developers of the Landmark Center. The next phase, scheduled to start construction in fall 2020, after the MBTA finishes its own work on the adjacent Green Line tunnel entrance, would extend that path from Miner Street to Maitland Street.

The City of Boston and MassDOT would like to build a new multi-use path connection in this MBTA-owned land under the Park Drive viaduct. The Fenway Green Line station is to the right, and the Muddy River path to the Longwood area and Jamaica Plain is in the distance. Courtesy of MassDOT.
The City of Boston and MassDOT would like to build a new multi-use path connection in this MBTA-owned land under the Park Drive viaduct. The Fenway Green Line station is to the right, and the Muddy River path to the Longwood area and Jamaica Plain is in the distance. Courtesy of MassDOT.

But the crucial link under Park Drive, to connect the new trail segments to the Muddy River path, is still in limbo and “is currently being discussed with stakeholders including the City of Boston, the Federal Highway Administration, the MBTA, and local leaders,” according to Marvin.

A September email message from MassDOT to Brookline resident Hugh Mattison, an advocate for the trail project, was more candid.

In that message, which Mattison provided to StreetsblogMASS, a MassDOT project manager wrote that the “Phase 2” trail segment under Park Drive had been put on hold “mainly due to the comments received from MBTA Operations (who use) this location frequently for Green Line track maintenance. There is no current design or construction schedule available for Phase 2.”

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