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Beyond The Big Dig
About this project

What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery may be the most important development decision to face Boston in a generation.

Menino Seeks Larger Role In Artery Surface Plan

By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff, 11/30/1999

In an unusual move to seize the initiative on Central Artery surface restoration, Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday proposed a new commission to oversee planning of the vast new open space -- with his own chief of staff as chairman.

In a letter to Massachusetts Turnpike Authority chairman James J. Kerasiotes, Menino also suggests expanding the scope of the project to include surface amenities and parks all the way from Massachusetts Avenue to Charlestown. In addition, Menino said the city would provide $500,000 for all the planning efforts, the same amount the Turnpike Authority has committed.

The restoration of the Central Artery surface, a 27-acre ribbon of open space created when Interstate 93 is put underground and the existing elevated highway is torn down, has become a political tug-of-war in recent months, with city and state officials wrestling over responsibilities, funding, and credit.

Menino's letter to Kerasiotes is a clear signal that City Hall wants to be seen as fully in charge of the project, though state officials strongly hinted last night that much of the mayor's proposal would probably be ignored.

"We're a little bit baffled by the letter," said Big Dig spokesman Jeremy Crockford. "The city has been at the table for several weeks and we hope they will continue to cooperate in the planning process."

Menino has been in a war of words with Kerasiotes ever since the turnpike chairman proposed in October hiring a master planner to advance the project. Menino countered that the city had the project under control and accused Kerasiotes of being confrontational.

At the same time, legislation to create a planning commission for the project bogged down at the State House amid squabbling over the panel's composition.

In the letter, Menino said he was establishing a Central Artery Project-wide Completion Task Force, with James E. Rooney, his chief of staff, as chairman.

The mayor wants the task force to include other City Hall officials, Kerasiotes, Governor Paul Cellucci, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham, a representative from the Artery Business Committee, pedestrian and environmental advocates, and representatives from seven neighborhoods along the Central Artery corridor.

"Legislation we jointly supported to establish a commission to review issues of finance and governance has been delayed. We cannot wait any longer to give these matters the consideration they deserve," Menino wrote.

The task force will furnish its recommendations on funding, governance, and development issues by Sept. 1, 2000, Menino said.

Menino is also seeking to take greater control of the work of the master planner, whom a separate committee is in the process of hiring. The mayor said the master planner should look at development parcels on the corridor and not just open space, and that the project should be expanded to include the area south of Kneeland Street, in the South Bay area, and north of Causeway Street, including Charlestown.

The master planner should also take into consideration "contiguous . . . planning efforts" on both sides of the corridor, such as City Hall Plaza and the Fort Point district on the South Boston waterfront.

The city will kick in $500,000 for the master planning process, the mayor said, plus another $100,000 -- if matched by the Turnpike Authority -- to assist the task force.

In a pointed challenge to Kerasiotes, Menino has also asked former transportation secretary Frederick Salvucci, an archrival of Kerasiotes from the administration of former governor Michael S. Dukakis, and former Massport board chairman Robert Weinberg to advise on surface restoration.

Officials at the Big Dig and the Turnpike Authority said they were eager to remain publicly cooperative with the city, but privately they said Menino was jumping into the surface restoration project late in the game with a public-relations ploy.

"He can propose anything he wants, but he doesn't own the land," one official said.

Aides to Menino surprised state officials with his announcement yesterday, releasing the letter to the media at 5 p.m. Just last week, Menino accused Kerasiotes of grandstanding when he announced the hiring of the master planner.

City officials say they have been active in planning the surface restoration for years, and point to the work of the Boston 2000 group and public-private partnerships such as the one currently working on a redesign of Dewey Square.

But state officials say a more detailed blueprint is needed to create a first-class re-use of the Central Artery corridor, with parks, sidewalks, kiosks, cafes, skating rinks, and botanical gardens. Kerasiotes, noting that the elevated Central Artery was set to come down in 2005, has said he was stepping in to launch a more aggressive planning process to meet that deadline.

"This is about getting it done," Kerasiotes said in a previous interview.

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