The Charles River Conservancy wants underpasses on three Allston bridges

 

 

 by WeiHuan Chen/Correspondent

 Allston —Brighton TAB

When Allston resident Brent Whelan bikes from his home to the Back Bay for work every morning, he passes cars running red lights, trucks making broad turns and vehicles nudging past each other on the busy River Street bridge intersection. He says his theme for his daily commute is “no crosswalks, no pedestrian signals, no mercy.”

However, future repairs on the River Street and Western Avenue bridges, proposed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, along with similar plans for the Larz Anderson Memorial Bridge on North Harvard Street, could provide a rare opportunity to build underpasses for bikers and pedestrians in the Allston-Brighton area.

All three bridges connect Allston to Cambridge over the Charles River.

The Charles River Conservancy, an advocacy group dedicated to the refurbishment of the Charles River basin parklands, is leading a widely supported movement for underpasses on the three bridges. Their movement is supported by 28 local elected officials and 36 professional organizations, which include Allston-Brighton State Representative Kevin Honan, Allston-Brighton City Councilor Mark Ciommo and Boston Transportation Department Commissioner Thomas Tinlin, according to a letter from the CRC.

Whelan is a volunteer at the CRC and reached out to the Allston-Brighton TAB on behalf of the organization.

Building biking paths underneath the bridges would improve the safety of non-vehicle travelers, said Whelan. Creating a continuous, scenic biking path along the Charles River would also encourage more Allston-Brighton residents to engage in a healthy and environmentally friendly way of traveling.

“The idea of an 8-mile uninterrupted path stretching along the river from the Arsenal Bridge to the Science Museum is too good to give up on,” Whelan said.

Part of a $3 billion renovation project called the Accelerated Bridge Program, the repairs will sustain vehicles, bikes and pedestrians for the next 75 years. The Larz Anderson Memorial Bridge was built in 1915 and the Western Avenue and River Street Bridges were built in the mid-1920s, and the bridges have not undergone major repairs since then, according to MassDOT’s website. The projects are “currently under design,” with the Larz Anderson Memorial Bridge slated to begin construction this spring and the Western Avenue and River Street bridges slated to begin construction in early 2014.MassDOT held a public hearing on March 13 and March 15 at the Honan Allston Branch Library to discuss the Western Avenue, River Street and Anderson Memorial Bridge proposals. A number of Allston residents, including Whelan, addressed the need for the underpasses at the meeting. The public hearing considered the possibility of constructing an underpass or including space to add an underpass in the future, but decided to opt out of either option after considering overall budget concerns.

On March 29, CRC President Renana von Tscharner submitted a comment letter to Thomas Broderick, Acting Chief Engineer of MassDOT’s Highway division. The letter included proposals to improve the bridge intersections without interfering with boat and vehicle traffic, as well as artist renderings of what a possible underpass at the River Street and Larz Anderson Memorial Bridge would look like. MassDOT has yet to release an official statement responding to the advocacy group.

On April 6, the CRC garnered support from Mayor Thomas Menino’s office in the form of a letter addressed to MassDOT Highway Division Administrator Frank DePaola, written by Commissioner Tinlin.

“Thousands of cyclists, pedestrians and joggers use the Paul Dudley White paths along the Charles River every day, and are required to cross the bridges at heavily trafficked, surface intersections,” Tinlin wrote. “Given the once-in-a-generation opportunity to reconstruct these bridges, we believe that including the underpasses is critical and should be included as part of the ongoing permitting and design effort.”

Many Allston-Brighton residents believe that the region’s accessibility to the Charles River is too precious to give up on an underpass opportunity.

“Those of us who are lucky enough to live this close to the river in Brighton and Allston could have one of the best bikeways in the country,” said Brighton resident Ania Wieckowski. “But we have to fight for it.”

For more information on the bridge restoration projects, visit massdot.state.ma.us/charlesriverbridges/. For more information on the CRC’s underpass advocacy efforts, visit charlesriverconservancy.org/UnderpassAdvocacy.html.

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