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Morrissey: More closures ahead without fix-it plan

In the mid-1990s, a group of community activists began a three-year effort— in conjunction with the state’s Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) — to re-imagine Morrissey Boulevard. The result of their work was a 1998 report that proposed an ambitious, $35 million rehabilitation project that would have transformed the 2.75 mile-long boulevard into its original “parkway character.”

It was an impressive, but costly plan— too costly, apparently. The report was shelved in 2000 under the Cellucci administration, which, together with Dorchester lawmakers, eventually advanced other local priorities, including the more costly rehab of the Dot leg of the Red Line. The MDC made piecemeal fixes to Morrissey, including the disruptive, but critical replacement of the once-crumbling Beades drawbridge that began in 2001. They also made repairs to tidal gates on the lower end of the boulevard near Neponset Circle, a stretch that was prone to regular flooding from high tides and rain events.

Today, the grand vision for a parkway-like Morrissey Boulevard that our neighbors and state planners put on paper is 15 years old, and while elements of that document are still useful, it is for the most part woefully outdated. The boulevard’s chief problem— tidal flooding along the Dorchester Bay expanse between Freeport Street and Columbia Point— has gotten worse with the passage of time. Looking at historic photos, it’s easy to see why. This roadway was literally built through the middle of a body of water that we call Savin Hill Bay. That the sea— swollen further by climate change— will eventually attempt to reclaim our humble passageway is beyond question. The more troubling question is why policymakers apparently lack any feasible plan to make the obvious adjustments.

The pressing need for an engineering fix to elevate the roadway was once again readily apparent to all of us last week, when a two-day coastal storm conspired with morning high tides to shut down Morrissey’s most vulnerable quarter-mile. Although predictable, Thursday’s road closure, in particular, caused massive residual traffic jams across the city. Aside from the obvious effect on traffic heading to and from the center city, it’s just as unacceptable that Columbia Point— home to several of Boston’s most important institutions, including a state university— should be rendered virtually inaccessible.

On Friday, someone from the successor agency to the MDC— the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR)— took to the agency’s official Twitter account to highlight the boulevard debacle as part of the current debate over state spending:

“Want to fix Morrissey + many more rds/paths/parks? ‪#choosegrowth support ‪@MassGovernor’s transportation plan,” read the tweet.

That sounds great. But, the governor’s own detailed transportation plan makes no specific mention of Morrissey Boulevard that we can find.

The roadway’s woes call for much more than sloganeering from officialdom, especially after a good plan to make these very fixes was shelved by their predecessors in government. There needs to be an updated, forward-looking plan in place to make this vital route safe and secure for decades to come.

– Bill Forry