The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) unveiled its preferred alternative for the state’s planned $260 million reconfiguration of the Longfellow Bridge Thursday at a public meeting to vet the environmental consequences of the project.
The plan includes “rehabilitation and restoration in place of the existing historic bridge, reduction in outbound lanes to one vehicular lane and provision of two lanes inbound and three lanes at the Boston approach with the replacement of the pedestrian bridge between Charles Circle and the Esplanade,” according to MassDot’s Environmental Assessment for the project. Besides addressing the structural deficiencies of the 106-year-old bridge, which connects Boston to Cambridge across the Chares River, the rehabilitation project also aims to better allocate space on the structure between automobiles, bicycles and pedestrians.
Steve Young, a member of the Longfellow Bridge Rehabilitation Task Force and president of the Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA), suggested reducing the number of vehicular lanes entering Charles Circle from three to two in an effort to reduce traffic at intersections.
Young said the traffic impact on Beacon Hill during construction is also a major concern and urged MassDOT to work with the community to mitigate the problem.
Anne Lusk of the Harvard School of Public Health advised MassDOT officials to install cycle tracks instead of traditional bike lanes. “You will be out of date if you put in bike lanes,” Lusk added.
A statement, endorsed by MassBike and WalkBoston, among other local advocacy groups, recommends placing a “crash barrier” adjacent to the two traffic lanes as opposed to the preferred alternative, which puts it between the bike lane and sidewalk.
‘The resulting bicycle track will be safer for all, especially less experienced cyclists and yields a more generous sidewalk for the considerable pedestrian traffic,” according to the statement.
State Rep. Marty Walz lauded the preferred alternative as “a dramatic improvement” over the state’s original proposal for rehabilitating the bridge.
“While the plan needs some tweaks, such as improving how traffic from the bridge enters Charles Circle, the overall plan is very good and will greatly improve what we have today,” Walz wrote in an e-mail to the Times. The state submitted its original redesign plan in early 2010 before withdrawing it due to substantial public pressure. MassDOT then convened the 36-member Task Force, which met throughout 2010 and submitted its final recommendations for the project on Nov. 12 of that year. The Task Force’s findings were subsequently included in the Environmental Assessment – a document that MassDOT will file with the Federal Highway Administration after the public comment period ends on March 21.