MassDOT Board Votes to Award Melnea Cass Construction Contract: Neighbors Say It Came Without Mention of Petitions Against Doing So

The MassDOT Board voted unanimously on Monday in a virtual online meeting to award a $25.64 million construction contract to Newport Construction over the objections of more than 370 residents who had signed a petition asking for the vote to be delayed.

The full cost of the project with contingencies and police details comes out to $30.67 million and was substantially higher than the $19 million estimate put out prior to bidding. Newport was the low-bidder on the project by about $200,000 over P. Gioioso & Sons.

“We recognize the bids were higher than the estimate,” said John Bechard of MassDOT. “The contractors looked at the number of weeks and number of modes and the complexity of it doesn’t lend it to a seamless construction project. It’s going to be a little more costly and take a little longer as we want to protect all traffic while construction is going on. We feel it’s a good bid, although higher than originally anticipated.”

The project is a key one for the City of Boston, and Pat Hoey of Boston Transportation told those in the meeting it will unlock economic development and better multi-modal transportation on what is a key local and regional corridor.

A driving force within the project was pedestrian safety and better bicycle connectivity. He said the project features separated bike tracks on either side of the roadway, new traffic signals, raised crossings, raised intersections, removal and reconstruction of medians, full-depth reconstruction of the roadway, new stormwater systems, and new lighting and transit facilities throughout the Melnea Cass corridor.

However, a key issue with neighbors has been the numbers of trees being taken down and continued prioritization of cars running through the neighborhood.

The South End’s Ken Kruckemeyer has led the charge to gather signatures to ask the Board to put off the vote.

“There is a lot more to be said about how wrong it was for the MassDOT to vote this contract without consideration of public input,” he said after the vote. “Probably more important is how illogical it is to award this ‘highway project wolf’ – dressed up in the clothing of ‘complete streets.’ State money needs to be spent on projects that slow global warming, not projects that unnecessarily cut down 100 trees and threaten many more in the middle of the Roxbury heat island.”

Kruckemeyer said they had gathered 372 signatures asking them to delay the vote so proper community input could be gathered. He said that wasn’t even mentioned to the Board during the online presentation. Because people weren’t allowed to be present at the meeting due to the COVID-19 response, he isn’t even sure the Board was aware of the petition and opposition.

“Most important is that the request from elected officials to delay a decision was not even acknowledged, nor was the petition signed by 372 neighbors even mentioned to the Board before it took up the award of the contract,” Kruckemeyer said. “That is from what could be seen and heard on the video. We know nothing about what paperwork or emails were circulated to the Board, if any.”

Hoey did mention the Friends of Melnea Cass briefly in his remarks, but seemed to indicate the issue had been resolved.

“The issue of the trees was important to the Friends group,” he said. “We’ve gone above and beyond in planting new trees and preserving existing trees. A good number we’re taking down are unhealthy or diseased. We’ve limited the healthy trees we’re taking down.”

He said they will be planting 210 new trees as part of the project, in addition to landscaping the corridor.

Construction is tentatively scheduled to start in the summer of 2020, depending on the outcome of the COVID-19 situation. It would be ready for substantial use by 2024, and fully completed by 2025.

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