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Beacon Hill gets a Longfellow Bridge update

Posted by Sara Brown  April 12, 2011 04:51 PM

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With phase I of the Longfellow Bridge project underway, the state Department of Transportation Monday told Beacon Hill residents that they would try to meet neighborhood requests for a new Storrow Drive pedestrian overpass and better connection between the bridge, Charles Circle, and the Esplanade, though the state's preferred version of the project remains under wraps.

More than 80 people came to the auditorium at Shriners Hospital for Children to hear an update about renovation plans for the 102-year-old bridge, part of the state’s Accelerated Bridge Program, an eight-year, $3 billion program launched in 2008 to repair the state’s bridges.

The Longfellow Bridge, spanning the Charles River from Cambridge's Kendall Square to Beacon Hill, will receive repairs to address structural deficiencies and bring it up to modern code, according to Amy Getchell, project manager for MassDOT. She added that the Federal Highway Administration will provide about 80 percent of the $260 million project price tag.

Phase I of the project began in March. In this phase, the stone towers on the bridge will be cleaned with an environmentally-friendly sponge jet that will lighten the stained stonework to its original light gray color and the sidewalks connecting the bridge to Charles Circle to the bridge will also be widened.

Starting in early May, the arches under the bridge--last painted in the 1950s--will be cleaned, de-leaded, and repainted so their condition can be evaluated during the next phase of the project.

While the bridge won't be widened, potential configurations of the bridge could add more space for bikers and walkers. The MBTA Red Line will continue to occupy 27 feet in the center of the bridge.

An environmental assessment with proposals for the next phase, set to last from late 2012 through 2016, will be submitted soon to the Federal Highway Administration, Getchell said, and the preferred plan would not be presented to the public until it is released by the federal agency.

“I’m very disappointed that you are not prepared to give us a recommendation,” said Marvin Miller, a Pinckney Street resident, a sentiment echoed by several other attendees.

A 36-member task force presented their recommendations last fall, with key points including wider sidewalk entrances to the bridge, the importance of a better connection between the Esplanade, Charles Circle, and the bridge, and accessibility to the parkland surrounding the bridge. The task group, and audience members, also stressed promoting pedestrian and biker use of the bridge.

With the current Storrow Drive pedestrian overpass connecting the bridge to the Esplanade not ADA-accessible and “aesthetically incongruous with the historic Longfellow Bridge,” plans also call for a new pedestrian bridge across the roadway.

To accommodate the bridge, the Storrow Drive off-ramp would be relocated to Mugar Way near John Jeffries House.

Another suggestion would eliminate a traffic island and eight or nine parking spaces from the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary to create accessible pathways toward park spaces.

Herb Nolan, a Beacon Hill resident and task force member, said he embraced “accessibility and connectivity to the parkland,” calling it “wonderful to see.”

With his own pointer (Home Depot, he told the audience), he outlined the important connection between the West End and the medical community and the parkland and Esplanade on the other side of the bridge, stressing the need for hospital patients and visitors to have access to fresh air.

“We have advised strongly ([Mass Eye and Ear] should begin the process of giving back the parkland they're parking on,” Nolan said, calling for the parks to connect back to the neighborhood.

The next public information meeting will be convened after the Federal Highway program makes the preferred recommendation public, said project manager Michael O'Dowd.


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