Editorial: Better coordination is needed when Morrissey floods

Traffic in and around Dorchester ground to a halt for hours at a time over the last week as Morrissey Boulevard’s chronic and worsening propensity to flood during extreme high tides and stormy weather triggered massive congestion.

There’s only so much anyone can do about the weather. That said, this entirely predictable flooding was made significantly worse by an apparent lack of planning and cooperative execution by state authorities.

This cannot be allowed to happen again.

The State Police and the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, who have the primary jurisdiction over Morrissey and Kosciuszko Circle, need to take steps now to ensure that future disruptive flooding events on Morrissey are better managed. They should engage with other city and state agencies— including Boston Transportation Dept., UMass, the MBTA, and the Columbia Point Associates – to create a simple set of protocols for what to do whenever Morrissey floods. From public alerts, expressway ramp closures, signage, to pre-positioning critical State Police assets at key intersections, we can —collectively — prevent the chaos and allow for a more orderly response to boulevard shutdowns.

The Reporter has a unique vantage point from which to observe and chronicle this particular problem. Our offices are situated on the top floor of the five-story Bayside Office Center affording us a bird’s-eye view of Kosciuszko Circle, parts of Morrissey, Columbia Road, Day Boulevard, I-93, and Mt. Vernon Street.

It is obvious to anyone looking on from up here that State Police assets— when deployed— have a dramatic impact on resolving gridlocks. Last Friday afternoon – with Morrissey entirely closed off between Freeport Street and UMass from about noon to 4 p.m. – traffic became progressively worse. There was no sign of a State Police presence at Kosciuszko Circle or at the various access roads around it. Vehicles that managed to make it off I-93 at Exit 11 had no choice but to inch along into the rotary nightmare. If they made the mistake of heading south toward Morrissey, they were forced to turn around and head back into the Circle.

The situation devolved like this for two hours without any apparent response from State Police. It unfolded even as UMass (BC High had wisely closed for the day, given the forecasted flooding) shut down abruptly at 1 p.m., unleashing an exodus of cars onto Columbia Point that made a bad situation exponentially worse.

Finally, around 4 p.m., a number of State Police vehicles showed up and troopers put order to the situation in a relatively short time. They slowly squeezed through and blocked the rotary at a halfway point, directing everyone onto Day Boulevard and unclogging the hopelessly snarled roadway.

They simultaneously stationed troopers at surrounding intersections (like Mt. Vernon and Morrissey). As the flood waters receded and Morrissey became navigable again by automobiles, they waved southbound motorists on their way.

Which prompts the obvious question: Why wasn’t this operation employed earlier in the day? Why weren’t assets in place throughout the day to deal with what state officials knew was coming?

On Monday, when tides once again spilled seawater onto the boulevard and shut it down for much of the afternoon, we again watched as the same chaotic situation unfolded and motorists were trapped for hours in the mess. Twitter feeds that typically offer direction and a sense of timing from officialdom fell silent. State Police eventually came in to sort it out well after the problem had descended into traffic madness.

All of which is more maddening because we’ve seen traffic management in this part of the city work fairly well in the past. In the 1980s and 1990s, when the New England Flower Show was staged at the old Bayside Expo, organizers and State Police coordinated to execute a well-oiled plan that moved traffic efficiently through the various obstacles.

Troopers controlled light signals and were stationed at the choke points. A commander monitored the situation from the top floor of the Bayside building that we’re in now. Signage was used to alert motorists. It was still congested, and it could be a slow-moving experience, but it worked.

We need our state leadership to step up here and make sure there’s a plan going forward. The root problem— the routine flooding and inaccessibility of Morrissey Boulevard— is not an unexpected event. The tide charts are precise and the National Weather Service has an excellent track record of telling us what’s coming day to day.

When the boulevard turns into a riverway, it shouldn’t result in a regional crisis. Let’s make sure this problem gets the common-sense approach that it deserves.

Bill Forry is the editor and publisher of the Reporter.

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