MBTA GM: Greenway project ‘moving forward’

The general manager of the MBTA said last week that the planned expansion of the Neponset Greenway will go through Mattapan, after officials from the mass transit agency, the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the State House met in an attempt to move ahead with the project.

The project, which has been vetted through a community process over the last two years, appeared to hit an impasse earlier this month when Greenway supporters learned the MBTA had safety concerns about having an at-grade crossing at the Mattapan Square MBTA station as part of the planned trail extension. But DCR officials, who said they don’t view the MBTA’s position as an obstacle and are sympathetic to safety concerns, are working to extend the Greenway by one mile, connecting the riverside path from Pope John Paul II Park to a separate state trail in Hyde Park.

The trail current stops short at Central Avenue in Milton.

Greenway supporters argued the MBTA’s position could prevent the trail from going into Mattapan, but T GM Rich Davey says his agency and DCR are in discussions to “work through the issues” and are talking about alternatives such as a bridge.

“The most important thing is to find the safe design that will accommodate this new mile and a half greenway,” said Jack Murray, deputy commissioner for DCR.

Officials from DCR and the MBTA are also planning a joint site visit to the trail in several weeks.

Addressing Mattapan residents who attended a separate meeting on a controversial Fairmount Line station, Davey said the MBTA supports having the trail extension go through both Milton and Mattapan. “We are moving that project forward,” Davey said. Transportation Secretary Jeff Mullan and Davey noted that the extension still needs funding for its construction.

MBTA officials have pointed to safety concerns about an at-grade crossing, citing several incidents on the high-speed Mattapan Line in the last 16 months.

The Conservation Law Foundation, in a June 13 letter to Davey, took issue with the MBTA’s concerns.

“MBTA now raises purported safety concerns with respect to the proposed at-grade crossing, notwithstanding the fact that currently there are six at-grade crossings on the Mattapan trolley line, and transit users at Mattapan Square Station routinely must walk across tracks,” wrote Melissa Hoffer, vice president at the Conservation Law Foundation, in the letter. “While MBTA may be seeking to avoid new at-grade crossings as a matter of internal policy, applying that preference in this instance to an alignment identified after a lengthy stakeholder process is entirely arbitrary. At-grade crossings can and have been implemented safely throughout the MBTA system.”

Officials from DCR, the MBTA and the State House met at the MBTA’s office a week ago Thursday. State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry also attended the meeting, and reiterated her position that the trail must include Mattapan and Milton. “They know that,” said Forry, who is married to Reporter managing editor Bill Forry.

DCR’s preference, reached after several community meetings, has the trail flowing through both Milton and Mattapan, following the Neponset River on the Milton side starting at Central Ave. and crossing over the river near the Ryan Playground. From there, it would keep going to the Mattapan Square MBTA station, and join the existing trail at Blue Hill Ave. and Brush Hill Rd. through an at-grade crossing.

The agency also bought a building at the corner of River Street and Blue Hill Ave. last fall for $400,000 as part of its efforts to build the trail. The building, a former furniture store, is adjacent to DCR property, and agency officials hope to use it and an old police substation they own as part of efforts to build a visitors center, and possibly an ice cream shop and a bike rental facility.