Lower Mills hangs tough while its Little Dig goes on

The Dorchester version of the “Big Dig” goes on in Lower Mills this week as contractors for the MWRA continue the complicated job of replacing a main water conduit underneath the streets in that village
The project has entered its third month, and the water agency has been actively listening to the concerns of residents and business owners there, trying to make alterations as needed to accommodate their issues.

“Overall the MWRA is doing a pretty good job,” one local merchant said this week. “We knew the project would have a significant impact” on the business district, he added. And so far that’s been the case, as daily traffic diversions have discouraged many potential customers from coming to the area.

To date, the obstructions have largely been under control, as traffic has been able to move along Adams and Washington streets with only minor delays.

But the job took on a larger dimension last week as the contractor moved onto a small stretch of Washington  Street, closing it down completely between Dorchester Ave and River Street,  resulting in a major rerouting of vehicular traffic.

The MWRA has always been clear that this next part of the project will be the most complicated, and would likely be the most disruptive, as the work requires a complete curb-to curb opening of the roadway, virtually shutting off access on the street for weeks. Merchants on that portion of Washington Street anticipate a huge loss of business, as their customers can only access their stores on foot. Also, the stretch is a major connector for traffic between River and Morton streets and Milton, and it’s not at all clear what route that diverted traffic will follow.

And there’s more bad news: the MWRA says the project is already running about two weeks behind schedule, and the delays are likely to grow. With the end of summer vacations and opening of schools just two weeks away, the increased traffic will make things much worse.

The project is a necessary one, and it’s clearly one that must be done. The agency and its contractors deserve high marks for their efforts to keep the community informed of progress – or lack thereof – and for listening to the concerns of the neighborhood.

But there remains good reason to caution motorists one more time to avoid the roads in and around Lower Mills for the foreseeable future. The early projections called for the work to be completed in late fall, and now it’s looking more likely that the work will continue through Thanksgiving and beyond.
As for the lost business, the MWRA has promised merchants they will be able to apply for remediation, i.e., cash grants to replace some of the receipts that were lost due to the project.

Ironically, when the new water pipe is completed, there will be no direct benefit for the Lower Mills community, as the pipe will carry fresh water elsewhere. Lower Mills is but a “pass-through” point for the larger metropolitan water district.

Merchants and residents have shown a remarkable resiliency all through this “summer of our discontent.” Right now, we have to remind ourselves to stick together, stay close to your neighbors, and we will all get through this – some day.

 – Ed Forry