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Greenway plan needs more focus from state leaders

The news this week that the MBTA has come out against a plan to route the next phase of the Neponset Greenway though its property in Mattapan Square is a deep disappointment for proponents of the Greenway and a potentially huge setback in the decades-long fight to restore the Neponset River to public access. If allowed to stand, the T’s unwillingness to allow a grade crossing to route the trail through its property could derail this project, an outcome with long-term negative implications on both sides of the river.

It does not have to come to that. Our state leaders – including Gov. Deval Patrick, Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry (full disclosure: We are married), their fellow lawmakers, and T General Manager Richard Davey – need to get on the same page and move quickly to resolve this question once and for all. The fact that state agencies are still dueling over the route of this “missing link” of the Greenway after years of planning and community meetings is an embarrassment to these officials. And it should be: It's happening on their watch.

Davey told the Reporter this week that the T is concerned about adding another grade crossing to its system – suggesting that such an intersection could lead to accidents. But there are scores of grade crossings throughout the T system and there are ways to enhance safety without abandoning a project whose public benefits far outweigh whatever inconveniences it might pose to T drivers and trail users in taking care at a crossing.

If the T holds to its refusal to allow a crossing, that may very well mean there’ll be no trail at all. Without the crossing, it’s likely that any Greenway extension would have to run exclusively on the Milton side of the river, cutting Mattapan out of the amenity entirely. That cannot and should not be tolerated by our elected officials. Mattapan must be included in the project and a well thought-out plan mapped out by the highly-respected Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN) does just that: It links Mattapan, Dorchester, and Milton through a one-mile route and gives public access to city residents who for decades have been walled off from their riverfront. This is a matter of equity and to deny this access after so many years of promises and meetings is unacceptable.

There were indications at mid-week that T officials may be willing to re-think their opposition to the Mattapan Square grade crossing. That’s welcome news, if true, but so far the agency’s leadership has been publicly mum on the idea. In fact, Davey’s comments to the Reporter this week seem to suggest the opposite.

The governor – a regular user of the existing trail – has been too detatched from this issue. He says he wants the project done by the end of his term. If so, he needs to get personally involved and help push it along.

The Greenway project, to date, has benefited largely from the commitment of citizen activists – like the folks at BNAN – working alongside committed public servants at the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, who have done excellent work in planning the Greenway since its inception nearly two decades ago.

It’s time for our elected leaders –starting with the governor and our state rep, both of whom live within steps of the trail itself – to show some strong leadership, become engaged, and carry this over the finish line. This may seem like a small item on their busy schedules, but for those of us who live here, opening up the Neponset to all of our neighbors is a legacy project, something that we will leave behind for generations to come.

We have that now in Dorchester, thanks to strong activist and political leadership of the 1990s. It’s time for our current leaders to step up and get it done.

– Bill Forry