Editorial: Morrissey rehab gets a big boost

There’s renewed hope this week that a confluence of state and city attention and monies will finally break an impasse over how best to move forward in rebuilding our vulnerable, but essential road system along Dorchester’s coastline.

Baker administration officials — joined by aides to Mayor Walsh—rolled out welcome news last week that Boston and the Commonwealth will jointly fund a $1 million-plus study this year to further advance planning that has already been done to modernize Morrissey Boulevard. The scope of the engineering study will go beyond what the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has already done along Morrissey. The new study will amplify those plans and add in the bottleneck-round-about at Kosciuszko Circle and the roads that feed it: Day Boulevard, Old Colony Boulevard, and Columbia Road to Dot Ave.

The idea behind the new spending makes sense. The improvements eyed for Morrissey— which included, at last review, elevating the roadway to account for sea rise and storm surge and creating a dedicated bicycle lane— are sorely needed. But it would be folly to spend tens of millions of dollars to “fix” Morrissey without bringing Kosciuszko Circle into the mix. Up until now, however, the rotary had not been factored into the Morrissey re-build plan, which has been in limbo since December 2017.

Rebooting the planning effort may seem frustrating to stakeholders who toiled through community meetings that began in earnest in 2016, but it’s not as if those existing plans, currently at 25 percent completed, according to our last reporting, need to be scuttled. They should not be.

According to Commissioner Jim Montgomery, the DCR has been working behind the scenes to refine its plan for the boulevard from Neponset Circle to Kosciuszko, which includes doing fresh assessments of drainage issues and identifying right-of-way and encroachment issues with abutters. Now, Montgomery says, it makes sense to bring in the state’s transportation agency – MassDOT – to coordinate the next phase.

The urgency to get this project “shovel ready” is not lost on anyone who travels Morrissey and the other roadways included in the study. The section that bisects Dorchester Bay between Freeport Street and UMass Boston’s Bianculli Way is a particular hazard for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. Even on dry weather days, it is prone to flood under high tide conditions; the passage over the Beades drawbridge is narrow and unforgiving for those not in a vehicle; and it’s a harrowing trip for all involved who must run the chute past the expressway off-ramp.

When the study is complete, we hope to see a number of elements from the existing DCR plan intact, most especially a proposal to “drop a lane” from the boulevard along the beachfront stretch to accommodate safe transit for bicyclists.

Aside from the present conditions, this study is essential as the Morrissey corridor and Columbia Point brace for what will be a massive transformation over the next decade.

The redevelopment of the former Bayside Expo site and the current Santander campus alone will yield 5.9 million square feet of new, mixed-use office, retail, and housing, including as many as 1,740 residential units.

There are others in the pipeline, including hundreds of new units on the old Channel 56 and Phillips Old Colony sites and new office and retail space at the old Boston Globe plant.

Taken together, all these new developments, and others yet to be envisioned, will put great stress on our existing infrastructure. We are pleased to see the state and city join forces here to move the needle on the effort.

– Bill Forry

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