By December, portions of the space underneath the I-93 Southeast Expressway overpass between South Boston and the South End could see a slew of improvements, welcome news to neighbors on either side of the hulking concrete structure.
At a Tuesday night meeting sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, neighbors received updates about the project and the temporary measures that will be taken in the coming months to bring life, security, and parking to the space.
The DOT is in the process of developing a multi-use parking facility under the overpass, which was previously used to store construction equipment. Once completed, 432 new parking spaces, in addition to a number of improvements, will be added to the approximately eight-acre area. A “Request for Information” was issued by the department last month seeking proposals for the parking spaces including commercial parking, resident parking, and community uses.
“Basically the primary strategy to activate the area is to make it a mixed user facility,” explained Robin Blatt, a project manager for the DOT. “The second way to activate the space is to create better connections to the neighborhoods.”
The parking component of the project was approved this week by the Air Pollution Control Commission, which regulates parking in the Downtown area.
Phase 1 of the parking project, which is under construction and is expected to be completed by December 2013, includes the construction of 235 parking spaces accessible from Albany Street. The project also includes improved pedestrian connections and added lighting along West Fourth Street, which connects to the South End’s East Berkeley Street.
Phase 2 of the project, expected to be completed by December 2014, will include the construction of 192 parking spaces, which will be accessible from Traveler Street. The second phase also includes a multi-modal path connecting the South Bay Harbor Trail to Kneeland Street and a transportation-themed public space, which will connect to the Boston Harborwalk.
“Two years ago we said someday we might be able to do something with this space,” John Romano, a municipal liaison for the DOT, told the crowd of about 20 resident and advocates.
“We figured at some point we’d do the parking, but we didn’t know if we’d ever get to the fun stuff,” added Romano.
That “fun stuff” is exactly what residents came out to hear Wednesday.
From art space to colorful, artistic lighting schemes, designers working with the DOT are currently developing ideas for what could be used to create a little life in the area that many consider dangerous and unwelcoming.
“Probably the most intriguing take away from this process was that everyone saw tremendous potential in it [the space],” said Dan Adams, a principal at Landing Studio and one of the designers working with the DOT.
Lighting, both artistic and functional, will likely be the most noticeable improvement made in the short term, a process Adams is familiar with. His studio helped create temporary light installations in Chelsea and New York City.
“We’re hoping in December to get the first installations in place so that we can start reacting to them,” Adams said.
As the project progresses a recently formed advisory committee will begin meeting to come up with more permanent solutions for the space.
“We’d like to change the perception of the space for everybody and really make that splash were people see the site differently,” explained Blatt.
Although Tuesday’s meeting focused on measures happening in the short term and really didn’t get into the fine details, most residents and advocates expressed excitement about the project.
“I’m really thrilled with what’s going on. It’s exciting and I’m impressed with how fast it’s moving,” exclaimed Elizabeth Cahill, a South End resident and member of the Old Dover Neighborhood Association’s executive board.