Roads, firehouses, parks, libraries in line for $2.78b bite out of city budget

A City of Boston map shows the distribution of proposed capital spending prohects across Dorchester, Mattapan and parts of Roxbury.

Mayor Martin Walsh has dedicated $2.78 billion to more than 300 projects in the city of Boston’s proposed Fiscal Year 2020 capital budget, which was officially rolled out Tuesday afternoon. A raft of new projects involve updating or creating branch libraries throughout the city, revamping and improving parks, and investing in transit corridors.

The City Council has already begun hearings on the proposed Capital Plan and Operating Budget.

Citywide, the capital plan slots $30 million for the Boston Housing Authority. Climate preparedness also took a front seat: Two Climate Ready Boston phases have studies underway, with a third phase budgeted for $1 million to assess climate resilience in neighborhoods and municipal facilities.

A related new project is the implementation of a $2 million master plan for Moakley Park,which straddles the Dorchester and South Boston waterfront where rising waters and heavy storms could inflict inland flooding without additional resilience measures.

Fire stations from Roxbury to Back Bay to Dorchester are budgeted for new facilities and upgrades. A single fire station, Engine 17 is still ballparked at $24.7 million for a new facility on or near the existing site atop Meeting House Hill. (See related story on this page.)

Some of the larger local investments involve library projects, which are slated for about $130 million in the newly released budget. Seventeen branches of the Boston Public Library are in line for startups, upgrades, or overhauls.

In considering the proposed budget, City Councillor Frank Baker recalled a push starting under the late mayor Thomas Menino to get the ball rolling on a new Adams Corner library, which finally made it onto the capital budget about four years ago under Walsh. Now in the final design phase, the library is authorized for $18.3 million.

Also on the horizon is a new library in Uphams Corner, Baker notes, which is in the Request For Proposals phase. Some $18 million is authorized, and “that’s a pretty good chunk of change for us to work on there,” he said.

Several new library projects are included in this year’s capital plan. Codman Square and the West End branch would each receive $100,000 for a facility assessment and building program, with the ultimate goal to design and construct new branch libraries. Chinatown is budgeted for $1 million to “design and construct the fit-out for a new branch library.”

More broadly, the budget proposes $200,000 for a planning study for the storage, preservation, and security of the BPL’s research collections.

Related reading: Mixed-use at library’s Fields Corner branch earns some applause

Baker also highlighted park investments. Design is underway for a $3.8 million renovation at McConnell Playground in Savin Hill and a $5 million renovation at Garvey Playground is under construction.

The capital plan adds several park projects, including Harambee Park’s third phase, which would bring improvements to the football field, sports lighting, a pedestrian pathway network throughout the park, and public safety. It also includes a feasibility study of parking and bus accommodation.

Mother’s Rest at Four Corners would receive $200,000 and the Ryan Play Area on Dorchester Avenue would receive $225,000, both for designing “comprehensive park improvements including play area and passive areas,” according to the budget.

The budget also includes $23 million to kick off a Franklin Park master plan, which “will enhance historic Franklin Park as a keystone park in the geographical heart of the City.”

City Council President Andrea Campbell praised the park and library investments and highlighted the Blue Hill Avenue Corridor plan as a critical project.

“I’m happy to see the city continue to invest in our neighborhood’s largest parks, Harambee Park and Franklin Park, as well as our neighborhood libraries, Codman Square, Fields Corner, and Lower Mills,” she said in a statement. “A new investment that I’m most excited about is the $300,000 for a Blue Hill Ave Transit Corridor Plan, which is long overdue. This will begin a community outreach and planning process to ensure Blue Hill Ave is safer and more efficient for our commuters, pedestrians, and cyclists.”

Franklin Park is also a boon in City Councillor Kim Janey's District 7. With a district spanning Roxbury, parts of Dorchester, the South End, and Fenway, equity is at the top of her mind as the hearings begin, Janey said.

"I'm very excited about the capital investment in Franklin Park, which is the crown jewel in the Emerald Necklace for all of us to use in the city of Boston," she said.

Roadway improvements pepper the budget, including $96 million for perennial fixes like road resurfacing and sidewalk improvements. But new investments would add connectors like a bike lane from Columbia Road in Dorchester to Melnea Cass in Roxbury/South End.

Janey applauded the millions in infrastructure and streetscape work, including connections around Grove Hall.

"It makes life easier for residents," she said of the fixes. "We're all feeling the pinch in terms one congestion, traffic, parking, slowness of the public transit system, difficulty of utilizing sidewalks for pedestrians and cyclists and seniors. This ensures we’re all able to the share the streets. [The infrastructure additions] sound little – a bike lane or pedestrian ramp, a dedicated bus lane – but they go a long way."

Only one new project is designated specifically for Mattapan: a $500,000 redesign of Mattapan Square to create a direct crossing of Blue Hill Avenue between Mattapan Station and River Street/Cummins Highway, including a bus/bike lane from Mattapan Station to Babson Street along Blue Hill Avenue.

Councillor at-large Annissa Essaibi-George is “paying close attention to mental health and substance abuse,” she said. Repairs are proposed for several Boston shelters and treatment facilities and the operating budget includes additional funds for social service connections. “I’m doing my best to make sure that resources continue,” Essaibi-George said, adding that she is also focused on family support services, particularly for low-income families and single mothers, “to break the cycle of poverty, which serves the Greater Boston region.”

Education is always a major chunk of the budget, with $152.7 million in the 2020 proposal earmarked through an annual program as a reserve for future BuildBPS projects, and $20 million similarly allocated for various repairs. About $15 million is still slated for repairs at the Russell, East Boston High, O’Donnell, Sumner, and Tobin buildings, and UP Academy Dorchester.