A decisive push on Morrissey? We’ll see

Can city and state officials finally get coordinated — and stay focused— on finalizing and funding the improvements needed to modernize Morrissey Boulevard? Can they deliver a budget-ready package on deadline? Those are the key questions that a newly formed commission, which assembled for the first time in a public setting last Tuesday evening, seems poised to answer with an optimistic, and resounding, “Yes, we can.”

Given the well-documented pattern of false starts and unfunded mandates that stretch back roughly four decades, the public is well within its right to counter with a skeptical “We’ll see.”

In the 1990s, the now-defunct Metropolitan District Commission spent two-plus years engaging Dorchester stakeholders in a planning effort that produced a $35 million proposal to restore the boulevard to its original “parkway” feel. The plan, which included a full replacement of the Beades drawbridge, was shelved under a Republican administration that was loathe to invest that sum in a city neighborhood. Instead, they agreed to spend a far smaller amount – roughly $9.1 million – to make repairs to keep the circa 1923 bridge in working order.

More recently, the state’s Dept. of Conservation and Recreation embarked on another design project – and a fresh regimen of public meetings in 2016 and 2017 – aimed at reconfiguring lanes, elevating the flood-prone roadway, and improving safety for cyclists and pedestrians.

That effort stalled out, in part, because of controversy involving the idea of dropping a vehicular travel lane in each direction to make way for dedicated bike lanes. The Baker administration, faced with unwelcome push-back, essentially decided to punt on the idea.

Which brings us to the present day and what many of us hope will be an end to decades of dithering and inertia. The new approach – advanced mainly by state Sen. Nick Collins – is a legislative commission that brings together the distinct agencies that all have some authority over the roadway itself or attendant uses. Critically, it’s chaired by Monica Tibbits-Nutt, Gov. Healey’s choice to oversee the state’s Transportation policies. Tibbits-Nutt and her fellow commissioners – Collins and state Reps. Dan Hunt and David Biele – are joined by officials representing key city and state agencies who’ll be tasked with reviewing a report that’s due in June.

The state has assembled a group of consultants and engineers to assemble that report after which the commission will make its own recommendations to state lawmakers and the governor on what to do next.

What those action steps will actually entail is where the rubber meets the saltwater-swamped road. The legislation that authorized the commission instructs members to evaluate and recommend transportation and infrastructure improvements, strengthen climate resiliency at Kosciuszko Circle, and develop a comprehensive plan for the Morrissey boulevard corridor. It also calls on the commission to “identify short-term investments to improve mobility for pedestrians, transit users, cyclists, and motorists along the Morrissey Boulevard corridor.”

Under an ideal scenario, whatever recommendations are made in June will include dollar figures that can be secured in the next budget season. This week, Secretary Tibbits-Nutt was hesitant to put any number behind what the state might commit to— calling it premature. That’s fair enough one week after the group’s first meeting.

It’s hard to envision an outcome in which the Healey administration and its legislative allies don’t produce some sort of substantive path forward. But, we will all be best served if this effort is regarded not as a tentative first step, but rather as a final act in a long-delayed saga that requires diligence and urgent action in the weeks and months to come.

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