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Let’s all get the Greenway back on track

One of the big unresolved news stories of the last year has been the Neponset Greenway and the state’s so-far unsuccessful efforts to get funding to extend the multi-use trail into Mattapan and to make enhancements along Dorchester Bay. Last year saw a second bid for federal grant money fall short— outcomes that were disappointing but also predictable, given the odds.

It’s time for our elected state officials to make a concerted public effort to explain how they will make this project a reality in this legislative session. It’s unlikely there will be a thunderbolt full of federal dollars anytime soon, so state policy makers will need to get creative about how to make good on their promises to make this public amenity more accessible to the communities of the Neponset.

This week, the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation brought us promising news that shows the agency is very much committed to moving the project ahead. Last year, the DCR bought an old, ramshackle furniture store in Mattapan Square that sat next to the MBTA station. The idea behind the acquisition was to convert the building, which was an MDC outpost in the first half of the 20th century, into a visitor’s center for the Greenway.

“The building will be a great nexus for greenway users to pass by and could in the future be used by DCR or permitted out to a business that would add to the enjoyment of users – in the future when the trail is completed,” explained DCR spokeswoman S.J. Port.

“The purchase was a further commitment by DCR to the Neponset Greenway project’s future.  DCR is committed to the project and will complete each piece as it is able,” Port continued. “In this case, this purchase sets aside a key part of the project for when resources become available to complete the project…”

Port said that the agency is close to starting work on preliminary plans for restoring the building, which will need to be partly demolished. An informational meeting for the community will likely be scheduled in the coming weeks, she said, with the actual first phase of work set to be completed by the summer.

The DCR’s commissioner, Ed Lambert, has made it clear that the Patrick administration wants to build the trail to Mattapan. But there needs to be more of a political push in this new year to get things moving on the Greenway again. We hope that our state delegation will act as conveners in this respect and not wait for the inevitable frustration of the community to hit a boiling point.

The price tag to do everything that DCR planners— in conjunction with community partners— envision along the Greenway is daunting. The bundle of bridges, boardwalks, new trail cuts, and other amenities exceeded $13 million and that cost will no doubt increase as the years click by. State leaders need to develop a clear timeline, prioritizing which segments of the trail can be done first and which segments may have to be delayed. But such a timeline and strategy for funding is needed in the near term.

We applaud the DCR for sticking to its commitment to the Greenway. It has been a long and aggravating process for many of the committed state workers who have toiled to prepare the project. They— and the people in the community who will one day make good use of the completed Greenway— deserve a better road map to guide us moving forward.