Removing more than 100 trees as part of the Melnea Cass Boulevard reconfiguration project has never set well with the community.
Going back several years when the plan was first unveiled, City officials have worked to try to mitigate the removal with other amenities – but this week it seems all such past agreements are off the table and the issue will be reviewed through an equity lens.
The City officially announced they would reconsider the tree removal on Melnea Cass, and not move forward with any next steps on the Cass project until the trees are sorted out.
“In keeping with our commitments to the community, the City has been revisiting the proposal over the last several weeks with a concentrated focus on equity impacts to ensure that any future proposal maximizes benefits for the community and meets the equitable standards to which we hold ourselves,” said a spokesperson for Mayor Martin Walsh. “Chief of Equity Dr. Karilyn Crockett, along with the Boston Transportation Department, Parks and others, are actively listening, soliciting community input and engaging with other stakeholders to ensure that any redesign proposal for Melnea Cass Boulevard prioritizes the health and safety of residents and puts equity at its core. That work will continue before we move forward with any next steps.”
Many neighbors in Lower Roxbury have been on the case for some time, and along with Ken Kruckemeyer of the South End, have put extreme pressure for at least two years on those coordinating the project – which is a mix of federal, state and City monies.
Kruckemeyer this week had reserved enthusiasm and said there is still suspicion that the trees aren’t saved.
“The City has committed to holding the required Tree Hearing if trees are to be cut down, but the neighbors and the advocates remain suspicious that the project will still go ahead,” he said. “This ill-conceived, $34 million dollar contract would further divide Lower Roxbury and increase the heat island. It should be cancelled right now so that the City and the neighborhood can proceed with much-needed attention to the trees, fixing the sidewalks and bike path, and making safety improvements along the Boulevard.”
The project has been in the making for many years, but grabbed extra attention just this summer when removing the trees morphed into an equity and racial issue – along with the ongoing environmental issue.
That said, neighbors who have been involved were incensed last March when the Mass Department of Transportation (MassDOT) awarded the $25.64 million contract for the reconstruction project to Newport Construction despite a petition with 370 signatures asking for the vote to be delayed.
The full cost of the project is $30.67 million, and that is $11 million over estimates.
A driving force within the project was pedestrian safety and better bicycle connectivity. 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. At the time of the contract award in March, City officials said they intend to remove a little over 100 mature trees, but will replace them with 210 new tree plantings – resulting in more trees on the corridor in the future.
Construction had been tentatively scheduled to start in the summer of 2020, depending on the outcome of the COVID-19 situation, but the situation caused it to be delayed.. It is hoped to be fully completed by 2025.