City of Boston Cancels Melnea Cass Boulevard Reconstruction

An architects' rendering illustrates planned safety improvements for the intersection of Melnea Cass Boulevard and Tremont Street in Roxbury. Courtesy of the City of Boston.
An architects' rendering illustrates planned safety improvements for the intersection of Melnea Cass Boulevard and Tremont Street in Roxbury. Courtesy of the City of Boston.

Citing concerns about impacts “on our shared environmental, social and transportation goals,” the City of Boston has cancelled a $25.6 million construction contract to rebuild Melnea Cass Boulevard in Roxbury.

In a letter shared with the press on Thursday afternoon, City of Boston Chief of Environment Chris Cook, Chief of Equity Dr. Karilyn Crockett, and Chief of Streets Chris Osgood announced that

“This is not the end but, instead, a new beginning for this project. We remain committed to advancing with urgency the aspirations that we share for this corridor — improving safety for all who use this road; increasing resilience in an area prone to flooding and extreme heat; and, enhancing this ribbon of open space that curls through the heart of our city.”

The letter also promises that the city will undertake a new public process later this spring to come up with a new design for the street, with a focus on strengthening the urban forest in the corridor.

Melnea Cass Boulevard, which extends from Columbus Avenue near Northeastern University to Massachusetts Avenue near the Boston Medical Center, ranks among the city’s most dangerous streets.

The city and MassDOT began planning for a complete reconstruction of Melnea Cass in 2011, specifying in outreach materials that the project would seek to create “a pedestrian friendly environment with safe crossings” and include “bus rapid-transit and bicycle accommodation along the corridor.”

After years of planning, planners in late 2018 had agreed on a design (pictured above) that would install protected bicycle lanes, raised crosswalks at intersections, improved bus stops, and landscaped medians.

But environmental advocates in the surrounding neighborhoods of Roxbury protested the new plan’s proposed removal of at least 121 mature trees.

“Thousands of families will be affected by this environmental racism,” said Tomiqua Williams, a member of the Friends of Melnea Cass, at a Sept. 14 press event. “The city moving full steam ahead is a vehicle of the colonial mentality for Roxbury, everyone else thinking they know what’s best for us Roxbury residents.”

In March 2020, MassDOT authorized a $26 million contract with the Newport Construction Corporation of Nashua, NH to start building the project. The choice of that contractor also raised eyebrows among tree advocates: in 2017, Newport allegedly cut down several mature trees along Beacon Street without notifying abutters.’

The Friends of Melnea Cass are celebrating the city’s decision to cancel the contract, and looking forward to redesigning the street as a neighborhood greenway, with less pavement and even more trees.

“It’s amazing,” said Yvonne Lalyre, a organizer with the Friends of Melnea Cass, in a phone conversation on Monday morning. “One of the things I’m very grateful for is how we realized how everybody cares about trees – we just need to make people aware, and they respond… This was just the right moment for (the city) to pay attention, and it worked. I’m inspired by the trees.”

 

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