Editorial: Morrissey Boulevard fix requires more political will, effort

A King Tide on Monday swamped Morrissey Boulevard. Katie Trojano photo

Morrissey Boulevard is going to flood every few weeks when there’s an especially high tide or a storm surge. It’s what happens when you build a low-lying motorway through the middle of a body of water—in this case, Dorchester Bay.

We can decide to simply accept that reality — and the inconvenience of detours and snarled traffic and, eventually, properties destroyed along the coast. If we choose this option— to do nothing and let Morrissey stay in its current state— then that’s precisely what we should do with other, adjacent projects: Nothing.

Pump the brakes on Dorchester Bay City. No residential towers next to the old Globe building. No more gleaming glass towers on the UMass campus. Re-purpose JFK-UMass into a ferry dock. Let Kosciuszko Circle twist itself into oblivion.

It makes no sense to keep investing money and energy developing a part of the city that we otherwise have decided should be surrendered to the sea. And, without more urgency around the effort to modernize Morrissey, that’s what will eventually happen.

Or, we can summon the political will, get off the proverbial dime, and pay to elevate and protect this main artery along our coast, the vital link to this rapidly changing and soon-to-be-booming part of Boston. We can get serious about finishing a job that has been bogged down in the muck for three years— actually, for far longer.

We covered a similar false start back in the mid-1990s when a different, better-funded state agency— the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC)—planned out a $30 million parkway rehabilitation and then, aside from a no-choice repair of the crumbling Beades drawbridge, essentially ghosted us.

The latest halt is not a pandemic issue. Fixing Morrissey has been stuck in neutral since the end of 2017, back when the phrase “coronavirus” was code for a May 6 hangover. That’s the last time planners from the state’s Dept. of Conservation and Recreation were out in this neighborhood to engage people in the effort to modernize Morrissey, a project that— at last estimate— was likely to take a decade and cost north of $40 million, minimum. Last we looked, it remains at 25 percent design, and unfunded. (A spokesperson for the DCR this week told the Reporter that the estimated cost is actually $87 million, but offered no new information on when the project might move beyond the 25 percent design phase or re-engage with stakeholders on how implement and pay for the project.)

On Monday, the still embryonic race for Boston mayor came to the boulevard-turned-bubbling-brook in the form of would-be candidate Michelle Wu, who wisely wore waterproof boots to wade across the roadway in front of reporters. Call it a mere photo op if you will. But credit the councillor for calling attention to the insanity of leaving a key metropolitan road system to get regularly swamped while we dawdle and dream up massive, 18-block neighborhoods to build just up the street.

Think about it: That’s nuts.

Yes, Morrissey is a state road and, technically, this current state of limbo is in the lap of the Baker administration, which has seemingly decided, at least in a de facto way, to kick this waterlogged can down the boulevard once again. But it’s also disingenuous for the city of Boston to include Morrissey as a lynchpin section of its latest plan for climate resiliency in Dorchester. Not when they know that the boulevard restoration efforts are, effectively, stalled out.

There are those who like to blame Mayor Walsh for delaying, if not torpedoing, the latest iteration of the Morrissey project because he voiced concerns in 2017 about the DCR’s idea of dropping a vehicle lane along the beachfront stretch. But, if the state’s commitment to rebuild this critical artery was so fragile that it could not survive the mayor’s input, then it was a half-hearted effort to begin with.

That said, it’s time for stakeholders— including Walsh— to use their platforms more forcefully to focus on Morrissey. Particularly in his new role as chairman of the Climate Mayors, Walsh should insist that Morrissey — and all of Dorchester’s coast—get priority status from the Commonwealth. Let’s get this show on the road.

– Bill Forry

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