Fall '22 start eyed for long-awaited Greenway connector

A rendering shows how an elevated boardwalk will carry a portion of the Neponset Greenway trail to Morrissey Boulevard, bypassing a hazardous expressway off-ramp. BSC Group graphic

A long-awaited missing link to the 10.5-mile-long Neponset River Greenway trail was discussed during a May 26 online hearing hosted by the state’s Department of Transportation.

The current preferred alternative for the connection between Morrissey Boulevard and Tenean Beach — which amounts to roughly 3,600 feet of trail, or roughly 0.7 miles— would improve pedestrian and bike connections.

It includes a 670-foot boardwalk through the National Grid “rainbow” gas tank site with “bump-out” scenic overlooks offering views of Dorchester Bay and the Boston Harbor islands.

State Rep. Dan Hunt, who said he has been pushing for the project to be finalized for seven years, said he did a walk-through of the preferred route recently with MassDOT managers.

“This is an important next step to continue to connect Dorchester to the water,” said Hunt. “I’m pleased that the [Baker] administration is moving forward with this project.”

A significant stretch of the new trail section would be channeled between the Southeast Expressway and existing properties on the west side of the highway, requiring easements and long-term lease agreements from current property owners, including National Grid and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. An anticipated 99-year lease agreement with National Grid— a key element in the connector plan— is “not yet finalized,” according to MassDOT spokesperson Kristen Pennucci.

“It is anticipated that this agreement will be finalized prior to Spring 2022 for construction advertisement,” Pennucci said. MassDOT, she said, anticipates soliciting bids for eventual construction next spring. Actual work is expected to start in the fall of 2022 and take two years to complete. The current estimated budget— $8.5 million— does not include “any right-of-way acquisition costs,” Pennucci told the Reporter.

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Paul Nutting, Jr., a Dorchester resident and member of the Neponset River Greenway Council, is “very excited” that the relevant state agencies are gearing up to get the project underway next year.

“It seems like it’s finally coming to fruition,” he said. “Having this feature will really help anyone on the northern end of the trail— places like Southie and Savin Hill— get to the trail so much easier. It will really help to connect all of these neighborhoods together.”

Nutting said that several people on the call pressed state officials to re-consider building a bridge or boardwalk that would allow travel along the Dorchester Bay side of the expressway between Tenean Beach and Victory Road Park, rather than shooting the trail behind buildings on the western side of the highway. However, Nutting said that state officials have said that the waterfront path was ruled out as too complicated and cost prohibitive.

One Dorchester resident who continues to press for state officials to reconsider the “shoreline route” is Jim Keefe, president of the development company Trinity Financial, Inc. and a frequent Greenway user.

“While it would require a bridge, the route would be half the length of the route currently proposed,” Keefe said this week. “It would eliminate any potential interaction between Greenway users and cars exiting the highway and taking the left turn at Victory Road. The less friction between cars and people, the safer it will be.”

He added: “Running the Greenway inbound along the highway behind the backs of commercial properties would be a totally inferior experience to running it along the water. Simple economic justice should weigh heavily on any effort to reconnect our community with its waterfront, even if it takes more money and time.”

The Reporter, which has been covering the progress of the Greenway since the early 1990s, was not given notice that the May 26 meeting was happening— as is customary.

Public comments on the current design— which is 25 percent complete— are now being accepted through a MassDOT-run website.

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