BHCA Board Votes to Support Request for Anderson Memorial Bridge Underpass

-By Dan Murphy

Schematic design of proposal of Anderson Memorial Bridge underpass by Landscape Architect Professor Pierre Belanger, Harvard GSD. Design of arches will respect historic architecture of the bridge (Courtesy of Charles River Conservancy)

The Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA) board of directors voted unanimously last week to support the position of the Charles River Conservancy, requesting that an underpass be included in the planned restoration of the Anderson Memorial Bridge.

In a March 4 letter to Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard K. Sullivan, Renata von Tscharner, founder and president of the Cambridge non-profit, asked that an underpass be included in the rehabilitation of the structure, which links Allston to Harvard Square in Cambridge across the Charles River and is popularly known as the “Larz Anderson Bridge.”

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is undertaking rehabilitation of the bridge as part of the Commonwealth’s $3 billion Accelerated Bridge Program, which is expediting the restoration or replacement of bridges with serious deficiencies by 2016. An Environmental Review Form for the rehabilitation project, issued by MassDOT last month, includes no plans for the underpass, however.

According to von Tscharner’s letter, increasing accessibility and safety for pedestrians and bicyclists and the health benefits of non-motorized commuting are among the advantages of the proposed underpass.

Also, von Tscharner countered several of MassDOT’s objections to the proposal, including that it would prolong the permitting process, its arches would detract from the bridge’s historic architecture and the addition of the underpass would increase the overall cost of the project by 10 to 15 percent.

In response to the concern that underpass would result in a loss of parkland, von Tscharner wrote, “The ramps would only help to enhance the accessibility and the appreciation of the parkland by allowing its users to be closer to the water and more removed from motorized traffic.”

Among the organizations that have voiced their support for the proposed underpass are the Boston Preservation Alliance, Charles River Watershed Association, Community Path, Livable Streets Alliance, MassBike and Walk Boston.

Elected officials who have endorsed the proposal include U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, State Sen. Anthony Petruccelli and State Rep. Marty Walz, among others

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