Morrissey Boulevard, a major south-north artery running along Dorchester’s coast that is frequently forced to close due to storm surges accompanying high tides could be in line for a $25 million overhaul under Gov. Deval Patrick’s tax hike proposal, a top official with the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation said on Wednesday.
The latest closing of the parkway came last Friday when winds and snow from a stronger-than-expected two-day storm rendered it unpassable both ways, causing commuter-focused UMass Boston, which is located off the boulevard, to delay opening its Columbia Point campus until 10 a.m. on Friday, and then to call it a day at 2 p.m.
“It’s a design that is not boding well in the 21st century and we need to do something to address it,” said Jack Murray, deputy commissioner at DCR, an agency that oversees 450,000 acres of parks, beaches, bike trails, and parkways.
Murray, who lives in Milton and often uses the boulevard, said that in the last 15 years the roadway has seen an uptick in flooding issues, which the agency attributes to “poor drainage and climate change.” Incremental increases in the sea level will have “significant” impacts on the parkway, he said.
The problem goes back decades. A Reporter headline from March 1998 asked, “Morrissey Boulevard: River or Roadway?” In the article, the now-defunct Metropolitan District Commission, DCR’s predecessor agency, promised a 3-year $35 million restoration that was set to begin in 1999.
That cost included bridge repairs, some of which have already been addressed. The boulevard’s three spans –the Beades drawbridge, the Bianculli bridge, and the Kosciuszko Circle bridge near UMass Boston and the Boston Globe’s offices – are owned by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, according to Murray.
A plan involving new drainage systems, raising the roadway by several feet, and reworking the landscaping would cost about $25 million, Murray said.
State Rep. Marty Walsh, a Dorchester Democrat, had to abandon a trip into downtown Boston on Thursday due to the traffic jams caused by the flooding. House Speaker Robert DeLeo was giving a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce at 7:45 a.m., and Walsh had left his house at 7:15 a.m. By 7:40 he was still on Dorchester Avenue. “There was no point in going north,” he said. “It was just a tough day.”
Walsh remembers that when he ran for state representative in 1997, the Morrissey Boulevard problem was an issue that cropped up during the campaign. He said that fixing it soon, whether through a borrowing bill or another way, has to be a priority. “The sidewalks have eroded to the point where it looks like a dirt trail,” he said. “It is a dirt trail.”
District 3 Councillor Frank Baker had his own problems trying to get around on Thursday and Friday. A trip from Savin Hill to the Murphy School, which his children attend, took 45 minutes on Thursday, and on Friday he kept them at home. “Something needs to be done about the design there,” he said.
For its part, the Patrick administration has proposed a tax hike plan to plow money into education and transportation accounts. While a revamping of Morrissey Boulevard was not listed among the projects the administration sent to state legislators in a bid to gain their support, DCR officials say the parkway will be among the projects in the running if the funding plans are approved.
When the boulevard was shut down on Friday, the agency’s account on the social networking site Twitter sent this message: “Want to fix Morrissey + many more rds/paths/parks? #choosegrowthsupport @MassGovernor’s transportation plan.”
Other possible projects include the completion of the Neponset Greenway Trail, which was included on project maps sent out to legislators, and a redesign of the intersection of Blue Hill Parkway and Route 28 at Mattapan Square, according to Murray.
“It’s important to note,” he added, “that if this plan moves forward, Morrissey Boulevard and the Neponset Greenway Trail extension would be eligible for this funding.”
Whether that will persuade enough lawmakers to sign onto the funding plans is an open question. Patrick’s $1.9 billion plan wokld hike the state income tax to 6.25 percent from 5.25 percent and lower the sales tax to 4.5 percent. The plan also involves eliminating and changing income and corporate taxes.
House Speaker DeLeo is working on his own proposal, and laid down some markers in his Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce speech. “Sensitive to today’s economic realities, I’m worried that the administration’s proposal places too heavy a burden on working families and businesses struggling to survive,” DeLeo said, according to the remarks prepared for delivery. “We want to minimize the pressure on Massachusetts citizens as we find ways to meet our goals. If we are to pass a new revenue package, I believe it should be far more narrow in scope and of a significantly smaller size. We seek to fund the priorities we need to enhance the economy, without creating collateral damage.”
The House chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation, William Straus, told the State House News Service on Monday that DeLeo “has articulated what I would call a developing consensus among House members” about the extent and scope of a palatable tax hike proposal. “It’s simply a question of not what we would like to have happen, but what can we actually accomplish, recognizing the ability of the public to support this.”
Material from State House News Service was used in this report.