The City announced on Thursday (Jan. 21) they are cancelling the current design for the Melnea Cass reconstruction project – a project that had been funded and ready for construction but met stern opposition last summer from residents in South End and Roxbury who rallied around saving the trees.
The announcement came in a letter signed by Chief of Environment Chris Cook, Chief of Equity Karlyn Crockett and Chief of Streets Chris Osgood, noting that over the last several months they had engaged in many conversations about the plans. Based on those conversations, they have decided to start over.
“Based on the concerns about the impact of those plans on our shared
environmental, social and transportation goals, the City of Boston is announcing the cancellation of the current design for the Boulevard’s reconstruction,” read the letter. “This is not the end but, instead, a new beginning for this project.”
The letter also indicated the City is committed to reconstructing the corridor and improving safety for all who use the road – as well as advancing goals for resilience, flooding and enhanced open space.
Above all, they said they would take a different tack with the trees.
“We know that we will only deliver a new plan we are all proud of through a process we are all engaged in. In the months ahead, we look forward to designing that process with you,” read the letter. “We are confident that this process will realize a final design that reflects the aspirations and needs of the communities abutting the corridor. And, while a primary goal of this project will be to strengthen the urban forest in this area, we are also committed to a public tree hearing as part of the project, if that plan results in the removal of even a single healthy tree.”
The corridor had been in the planning process with the City and state for several years, going back to around 2017. Major pieces of that plan focused on the bicycle paths, the raised crosswalks and new signalization. There had been early clamoring about the removal of hundreds of trees on the corridor to make way for more bicycle and sidewalk accommodations. However, the City and state had made concessions at that time to plant nearly two times more trees than were taken down. That fact remained for some time.
Nevertheless, when a contract award hearing took place at the MassDOT Board meeting in March, the project was well over budget and people began to get wise to the tree removal plan.
That united a group that literally joined hands from the South End side of the Boulevard to the Roxbury side of the Boulevard and they began to advocate against the plan – which was seemingly well beyond the point of change or amendment. The calls, however, got stronger and stronger to ‘Save Melnea’s Trees’ and that culminated in a huge even last fall where advocates hugged the trees, did a dance and marched through the corridor.
That, apparently, got the City’s attention and led to the cancellation announced Thursday. The letter called to note the fact that 52 years ago this week, residents worked together to stop the highway from marching along Cass Boulevard and destroying the City’s fabric (Crockett actually wrote a book on the subject).
“We are also mindful that the namesake for this Boulevard organized our city to fight against racism, to empower people to vote, and to expand opportunity for those most in need,” read the letter. “We appreciate all that you have done to honor that legacy, and we look forward to taking the next steps with you.”