A reconfigured Charles Circle and the first expansion of the Charles River Esplanade in decades came one step closer to reality last week when Massachusetts lawmakers passed a $17 billion, 10-year State Transportation Bond, which, thanks to language drafted by Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Rep. Jay Livingstone, allocates $108 million for the relocation of a portion of Storrow Drive.
Sen. DiDomenico and Rep. Livingstone have proposed moving a portion of the roadway and its Charles Circle access ramps and consolidating the westbound and eastbound lanes from under two to under one archway of the Longfellow Bridge; this could not only facilitate the flow of traffic on Cambridge Street, but also result in an increase of three acres of new greenspace on the Esplanade between the bridge and the Charles River.
“This is funding largest expansion of the Esplanade in decades, and at the same time, increasing public safety and traffic patterns on that roadway,” Sen. DiDomenico said. “It’s going be a tremendous benefit for the people of that neighborhood and people traveling in that neighborhood. Now, we need to just to get work to begin and focus on getting shovels in the ground and getting [the project] moving so we can see the benefits for that community.”
In 2004, legislation drafted by Rep. Livingstone passed became law that authorized Massachusetts Ear and Ear Infirmary to enter into a long-term agreement with the state to lease two surface parking lots located within the Esplanade. At that time, the hospital planned to build a garage beneath the parcels, converting the existing lots to landscaped parkland at the street level, as well as to add approximately 240,000 square feet, or 15 new floors, to its campus.
Although Partners HealthCare acquired Mass Eye and Ear nearly three years ago, Rep. Livingstone said, “We understand they’re still interested in proceeding, and if realized, it would be the largest expansion of the Esplanade in decades.”
The idea of reconfiguring Charles Circle to gain additional parkland had previously been proposed as part of Esplanade 2020 – the Esplanade Association’s long-term plan for enhancing and restoring the park.
“We’re so appreciative to Rep. Livingstone and Sen. DiDomenico for something that has been a priority of the Esplanade Association since the ‘Esplanade 2020’ report came out in 2012,” said Michael Nichols, executive director of the Esplanade Association – the nonprofit that works in partnership with the Department of Conservation and Recreation to maintain the park. “It will be a transformative improvement to the experience of park visitors from Beacon Hill through the West End on that section of the Esplanade.”