Bridge over troubled waters

Feasibility study  meets with frustration from elected officials and residents

-By Dan Murphy

The clear consensus among the elected officials and roughly 50 West End residents at the Amy Lowell Apartments last Tuesday suggests that the state’s feasibility study now underway for the proposed Leverett Circle Pedestrian Bridge is an exercise in futility.

“This is a tremendous waste of time and money,” City Council President Mike Ross said. “No bridge in the history of Massachusetts has had this much discussion. Either build it or don’t build it, just stop wasting our time.”

Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Project Manager Amy Getchell said the approximately $70,000 study would evaluate three alternatives – a no-build option that would maintain existing at-grade pedestrian and bicycle access, a bridge with no at-grade crossings and, finally, a bridge with at-grade crossings.

Criteria used in the study include safety for all users, security, length of travel and cost and construction, among other considerations.

In June of 2011, the study team is scheduled to submit its final recommendations to officials from MassDOT and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the agency that would ultimately have jurisdiction over the bridge. MassDOT Secretary and CEO Jeffrey Mullan committed to deciding on the matter by the early summer, Getchell said.

State Rep. Marty Walz voiced her concern that one alternative proposed doing away with at-grade access at the intersection.

“I’m absolutely mystified as to why we’re getting rid of at-grade crossings,” Walz said. “To take away an improvement to this community…makes no sense to me whatsoever.”

Bob O’Brien, executive director of the Downtown North Association, said both a bridge and at-grade crossings were necessary for user safety in light of proposed large-scale development in the area, including planned expansions of the Massachusetts General Hospital and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary campuses.

“Our position has always been in favor of a tandem strategy that involves rehabilitation of the pedestrian bridge and at-grade improvements,” O’Brien said.

Meanwhile, longtime proponents of the bridge expressed frustration with the lack of progress made to date, especially since the outcome of the study evidently provides no assurance that the state will actually build the overpass.

“We are entitled to a bridge, and we demand it,” said Ivy Turner, a West End Council member and a Whittier Place trustee. “We will accept nothing less.”

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