The River Roads

The Governor has proposed to shift from DCR to MassDOT the control of Soldiers Field Road and Storrow Drive.  Currently the SFR/Storrow corridor along the Charles in Boston is managed by the state’s park agency, the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The Governor would transfer the vehicular corridor, but not the adjoining esplanade, to MassDOT, the state’s transportation agency. The transfer can be viewed from a few different angles and I am looking for feedback.

Legal Consequences of Transfer

Section 5 of the Governor’s FY2021 Budget Proposal adds SFR and Storrow to a list of roads defined as “designated parkways”.

“Designated parkways,” McGrath and O’Brien highways in the cities of Cambridge and Somerville, the Carrol parkway, Middlesex avenue in the city of Medford, William Casey highway overpass in the Jamaica Plain section of the city of Boston, Columbia road in the South Boston section of the city of Boston, Morton Street in the city of Boston, Storrow drive in the city of Boston, Morrissey boulevard in the city of Boston, Soldiers Field road in the city of Boston, Day boulevard in the city of Boston and Gallivan boulevard in the Dorchester section of the city of Boston, all formerly operated and maintained by the department of conservation and recreation.

Definition of Designated Parkways as rewritten by House 2.

Designed parkways are part of the “state highway system” a legal term included in the act of the legislature that established MassDOT in 2009. That act established MassDOT as a “body politic and corporate” and gave it ownership of and responsibility for the state highway system.

Among the powers granted to MassDOT is the power to:

enter upon any lands, waters and premises in the commonwealth, . . . for the purpose of making surveys, soundings, drillings and examinations . . . ; and provided, further, that the commonwealth hereby consents to the use of all lands owned by it, including lands lying underwater, which are deemed by the department to be necessary, convenient or desirable for the construction, operation or maintenance of the state highway system, the metropolitan highway system or the turnpike;

General Laws, Chapter 6C, Section 3 [emphasis added]

Additionally, MassDOT’s eminent domain powers extend to the relocation of utilities abutting the state highway system.

The department shall have power, in the process of constructing, reconstructing, repairing, rehabilitating, improving, policing, using or administering all or any part of the state highway system to take by eminent domain pursuant to chapter 79, such land abutting the state highway system as it may deem necessary or desirable for the purposes of removing or relocating all or any part of the facilities of any public utility, including rail lines,  . . ..

General Laws, Chapter 6C, Section 19

Project consequences of transfer

MassDOT has proposed to reconstruct the Allston interchange of the MassPike. The pike runs along the river on a crumbling viaduct looming over SFR/Storrow. (Technically SFR runs from Brighton to the BU bridge and then becomes Storrow.) Plans for the reconstruction are under continuing debate, but at this stage the plans contemplate relocating SFR into the river for a decade. Wetlands are heavily protected by law. Relocating SFR into the River raises a number of state and federal legal issues. However, the designation of SFR/Storrow as part of the state highway system appears to address at least one of those legal issues by implicitly giving the Commonwealth’s consent to the use of the land underlying the Charles.

Other structures along the corridor will also soon require major maintenance: The overpass of Storrow at Charlesgate and the underpass of Storrow at Arlington Street.  MassDOT has much more depth in large project management than does DCR.  Transfer of Storrow to MassDOT facilitates MassDOT’s management of those projects. However MassDOT could manage the projects without permanently transferring Storrow through some form of interagency agreement. It is possible that MassDOT’s powers over the roads it permanently owns as parts of the state highway system may be somehow useful to those projects as well.

Vision consequences of transfer

The river roads were built in the 50s and 60s and reflect the priorities of the last century — free movement of automobiles at the expense of parkland and neighborhood quality of life. There is a powerful argument that now is the time to reverse the priorities of the last century and turn the river roads back into easily crossed boulevards better connecting surrounding neighborhoods to the river. As deeply as I love that vision, I cannot vouch for it as realistic.

Starting in 2013, I participated in a process that MassDOT led regarding the reconstruction of the Bowker overpass. The Bowker connects Storrow to Longwood. I supported Charlesgate neighborhood residents who hoped that MassDOT would take down the overpass, which shadows their neighborhood and the Muddy River as it approaches the Charles. I pressed MassDOT hard to justify the reconstruction with a full traffic analysis. Ultimately, I had to concede the necessity of the overpass — I accepted that removing it would create regional gridlock and supported the reconstruction.

At the same time, I began pushing for the Central Transportation Planning Staff to conduct a broader study of the capacity of all of the road corridors and transit systems feeding the inner core of the city. SFR/Storrow is one of those critical corridors. The gist of that study is that congestion is only going to get worse as development continues over the next few decades — all of our systems are at our near capacity. More recently, we received a confirmation of that trend from the governor’s congestion study.

I have been drawn to the vision of downgrading the river roads for some years. Unfortunately, the hospitals and other institutions and employers that we are counting in the 21st century have come to depend on the transportation system of the 20th century. MassGeneral and the Longwood Medical Area both heavily depend on access by automobiles along Storrow Drive. More broadly, the transportation capacity of our inner core is so strained that we probably have to take an all mode approach to transportation — improving public transportation while preserving most of our existing road capacity.

As we struggle to manage congestion and to reduce greenhouse emissions, the debate about alternatives will continue on a project-by-project basis. The transfer of the river roads to MassDOT has no determinate impact on the larger vision issue, but does feel like a commitment to preserving the river roads as a high-capacity vehicular corridor.

DCR role consequences of transfer

I have long been of the view that our state park’s agency is overwhelmed by its responsibilities. There are many very competent and committed people at DCR, but the agency has so much on its plate that many projects and problems slip behind. As a legislator responding to concerns of my constituents, I typically have a dozen or more open issues with DCR at any one time. Many of those issues have been open for months or years and I am very frequently unable to prosecute them to any successful conclusion for my constituents. I know that many of my colleagues have the same perception: The agency needs better focus.

Last year, we inserted language into the budget creating a commission to study DCR’s role and responsibilities. The study is being led by the Secretary of Environmental Affairs and has the following charter:

The study shall include, but not be limited to: (i) an examination of the current responsibilities and structures of the department and the stewardship council established in section 2 chapter 21 of the General Laws; (ii) a determination of whether departments, divisions, assets or operations of the department should be transferred to other agencies, departments, municipalities or entities, with special consideration given to urban parks and roadways; (iii) a review of the capital and operating budgets of the department with an analysis at a component level of the relationship of cost to value; and (iv) recommendations on how to: (a) improve transparency and accountability for project choice; (b) maximize returns on the commonwealth’s investment in the department of conservation and recreation; and (c) improve project planning and execution, with special consideration given to the role of the stewardship council.

FY2020 Budget, Section 100.

I have confidence in Kathleen Theoharides, the Secretary of Environmental Affairs, and I have been looking forward to the outcome of the study under her leadership. I fully expect that the study will make recommendations about some of the many roadways that DCR owns. It appears very logical to transfer some of them to MassDOT or to municipalities. MassDOT and the municipalities are often maintaining adjacent or intersecting roadways or properties and fragmentation of responsibilities is inherently inefficient. From that perspective, I am very open to the transfer of SFR and Storrow away from DCR — it will help DCR focus on its core park assets and may lead to better management and maintenance of the roadways under an agency focused on transportation. But I am disappointed that this major decision is coming ahead of the conclusion of the study. That study might suggest transfer with particular conditions or terms relating to the design of the roadways.

Seeking Input

As I head towards a vote later this spring on the proposed transfer of SFR and Storrow from DCR to MassDOT, I would very much appreciate feedback on the proposal — whether it should go forward and, if so, under what conditions. Please do comment below!

The Esplanade is the crown jewel of the state park system and would remain with the park agency. My understanding is that no greenspace or bikepaths would be transferred and this is something I will be seeking to confirm and/or clarify legislatively.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

63 replies on “The River Roads”

  1. These roads belong with Mass DOT which has the expertise to manage them. The fact that they are part of DCR is a legacy of the past that should change so the right department is managing the roads. These are not scenic byways, these are major highways managed by a park service. It is also very inefficient, not to mention the major work coming up.

    Now is the time to spend the energy to get access to the river by tunnels or bridges across these roads. Removing them in unrealistic.

  2. Will any of this affect the many green spaces and parks along the river roads?
    Will they remain undef DCR?

    As an aside about roads and streets:
    I am not enthusiastic about “traffic calming,” which narrow roads and makes sidewaks unnecessarily wide. Also, as I drive along various streets in this region, I do not see a lot of people using the bike paths. I understand that these paths have safety aspects, but I wonder whether they are necessary.

  3. I like the idea of parkways rather than highways, but those issues can be dealt with in agreements and don’t necessarily depend on ownership.
    I don’t think we can make Storrow into a boulevard at this time. I have heard proponents of the boulevard talk about moving its traffic to the Mass Pike, but the Mass Pike is already totally congested.
    I think we need to implement measures to reduce car usage and then we can discuss making Storrow into a boulevard. Among other things we need to limit single occupancy vehicles on some roads during traffic hours. Also, we may want to keep Storrow as a highway with exclusive bus lanes or perhaps even with light rail, rather than changing it to a ground level boulevard with multiple crossings.
    As a resident of 180 Beacon, I like that the easterly lanes of Storrow behind our building are in the tunnel and covered by grass. I hope this underground tunnel can be retained, rather than have more at grade paved roadways.

  4. The bicycle/roller blading/baby stroller/jogging paths along Storrow Drive are used a lot. One might not see throngs of people during a morning commute, but I would hate to have these spaces reduced in size or eliminated. Part of a city’s attraction is having these kinds of spaces available for its residents and visitors.

  5. I support this. Having MassDOT manage all state roads just makes sense. Let MassDOT focus on state transportation corridors and consolidate expertise. Also a little anecdotal but I’ve noticed that when its snowing Soldiers/Storrow weren’t plowed/salted as well as MassDOT roads such as Route 9.

  6. Thanks, as always, Will. Agree with you on turning over roadways to competent parties.

    I know many hate the idea, but wondering if a Boston “ring/surge” toll plan could be considered seriously on all major non-Pike arteries like Storrow and Memorial Drives. For one, it raises funds to maintain our system — or maybe x% can be shaved off the toll revenue to support DNR for example and the beauty/funtionality of our River parks and amenities? Second, the toll might motivate more SOV drivers to get out of the car and onto public transportation. Am sure this concept has been kicked around a lot, and suburban communities are negative about it (“Who moved my cheese??”), but if any merit at all, the occasion of the Governor’s transportation plan and takeover of DNR roads might provide the ideal time to push on surge tolls once again…

    PS. What is the likely reason the Gov needs to cut the line and move on transfer before the study is completed, and can that timing be done in more logical fashion?

  7. I do not care who has ownership as long as they can and do maintain them.
    I do not want the roadways narrowed and I do not want to see the green space, walkways, etc tampered with.
    I do wonder why moving these roads from one state agency to another really matters?

    1. Agreed, who has ownership is not what matters, but they must be held accountable for their oversight. Both are beholden to their responsibilities to serve the public good who are taxpayers that support and expect results.

    2. My thoughts exactly John.
      If there has been issues in the past then look at what created the issue or the particulars related. The over site name has nothing to do with the result.
      I.E. if there is a lack of funding or experience personnel, either agency will have to address the problem in the same way.

  8. I like that having the river roads be parkways stresses that they are something different than a highway. That said, studies done the last time we were looking at redoing the Storrow Drive tunnel showed that Storrow was handling about as much traffic as the turnpike east of the Bowler. If the transfer could go into a parkway section in MassDOT rather than the highway department, and if we could still have assurances that the needed repairs and tunnel replacement would be done without consequential infringement on the Esplanade and without harming the Charles , I could go along with the transfer.

  9. I hope that changing responsibility to the DOT will improve maintenance of Storrow drive and the access roads. I have had trouble reporting potholes, and I ruined a tire in a pothole on Storrow Drive on a record cold day.

  10. There is SO much not to like here, no surprise there, but the capstone of this epic pork-and-grifterfest is the “temporary” relocation of Storrow Drive INTO the Charles River.

    Catch that, pay atttention now: INTO the river.

    Again, INTO the river. Storrow Drive. INTO the river.

    I know it is not the Patriots or the Bruins, the Charles River is, among its countless charms, the home course of the annual Head of the Charles regatta, a world class sporting event on the scale of the Kentucky Derby.

    Will and the greedy grifters care not that they will destroy the venue for this event. No, there is an absolutely humongous honey pot of details and contracts and kickbacks to attend to. Of course, underneath all of the prattle, that is the ONLY thing anyone under the dome is focussed upon.

    Will, its simple: NO NO NO NO NO NO. There are SO many reasons to oppose this moronic BOOOOONdoggle. Fix and streamline what exists. That can be done if you take some heads out of some inverted positions. If you brought in the Chinese, non-union contractors they could it in 6 months.

    Alas, let us know when, as usual, you wring your hands and join the log roll and come out in favor of this appalling disgrace. Makes about as much sense as putting a highway off ramp through Churchill Downs or Haaaarvrd Yard. I’m sure you will come to like it.

    1. Will, I think the major objection to this move is that it would facilitate the move of Storrow Drive into the river during the reconstruction of the Pike and Storrow. Since that’s not a good approach, you need to block this now. Otherwise, it probably makes sense to have the highway department manage the highways. Perhaps it would not have eliminated the lane change on Storrow just west of the Kendall/Fenway exit; for a short time we didn’t have people making panicked merges onto Storrow, but someone insisted that be restored. Also, DOT might not have created a situation on Greenough at Grove Street where there is no legal way to turn right: a sign says “No turn on right” onto Grove; and the arrows both point straight ahead. Fortunately, this is Massachusetts and people do what they need to do.
      But until there’s a good resolution of the Allston reconstruction plans, DOT shouldn’t get Storrow.

  11. The only concern I have would be that the DOT be limited in the eminent domain takings of adjacent DCR parkland. Any easements and rights of way for utility work should be mandate the environment repaired to better than before conditions. The transfer agreement should not allow the trading of other “parkland” areas in or adjacent DOT property to be traded for the destruction of the parks along the Charles by the DOT.

    1. I agree with this point. Any new work must be required to improve or do no harm to the environment ‘borrowed’ to make improvements to the roadways. Preserving the Charles River is a priority.
      And as you mention, Will, if the timing can be postponed until after the report that makes much sense. Thanks for your good work.

  12. No. Keep it as is. The DOT can barely take care of the highways. The litter and filth along the highways is disgraceful. I don’t want that to happen to the river roads. Ugh. I feel like I’m back in the 70s when I was little and the Commercials on tv begged us to stop littering the highways and with that Native American guy crying as he looked at all the air pollution and litter. No, I don’t trust the DoT to maintain the river roads.

  13. This would truly be a tragic decision. These are parkways, not highways. The difference is very consequential.

    I agree with the previous post: NO NO NO NO NO NO

  14. I heartily disagree with any idea that puts a road into the river. I also have no idea why any transfer needs to be made. Surely the people who have the privilege of protecting the river will do whatever is necessary to accomodate traffic as much as possible without destroying the wildlife nature that is such a gift to all of us.

  15. This is a terrible idea. As a resident adjacent to the Bowker in the Charlesgate area I have no confidence in the MassDOT as a steward of the parklands. During the Bowker rehab a few years ago, I asked Jim Kersten from MassDOT repeatedly if the concrete was tested for asbestos since the Bowker was built in the 60s when aesbestos was widely used. He said they had but could not provide a copy of the analysis since the lab they used did not produce reports. What type of lab doesn’t provide reports? Subsequently my girlfriend has been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer without the Her2 and BRCA genes so it was unlikely to be caused by genetics. Additionally, another neighbor on the other side of the Bowker was diagnosed with lung cancer. Anecdotal? yes, but probably more than a coincidence.

    With the Bowker, there are repeated “emergency” repairs that disturb the residents late in the night and more importantly, there are zero dust mitigation methods implemented so you have plumes of concrete dust blowing over the neighborhood. The drains on the Bowker drain down on the sidewalk below creating icy conditions and adding to the contamination of the Muddy River with run off from the Bowker including some drain pipes leading directly into the river.

    Given this track record, handing over DCR property to MassDOT will only contaminate and destroy it, particularly the part of moving the roadway INTO the river.

  16. Additionally, with the Bowker rehab, MassDOT promised to leave the area better than they left it but have fallen well short of making good on it. While doing work on Mass Ave. MassDOT had used a grassy area in Charlesgate as a staging area where contractors parked and stacked equipment and supplies right next to old growth trees causing significant stress to their root systems.

  17. If it means that a TEEENY bit of park can be sacrificed to make the Rt 1 ramp onto NB Storrow, instead of a death-defying game of chicken, then I’m all for this. Ever since moving to the area, the hesitation to make that a safer on-ramp has baffled me. I was told it was because DCR didn’t want to give up the land.

    Conceptually I can see the desire to have more parkland along the water, but I don’t see how that can be done without eliminating traffic in the Hub entirely. Everyone would take memorial or pile onto the few exits off the Pike. I just don’t see it. Plus emotionally I love driving along Storrow (except rushhour of course).

  18. I understand many of the concerns, however my gut says (having lived and driven here for 40 years), that a stressed job by DCR is better than anything DOT will put in its place. I second not putting anything into the Charles River, and leaving the clunky beauty of Storrow and SFR to be amended as it becomes possible. The reworking of Greenough Blvd has been great (except for the exceptionally stupid and gas-wasting “no turn on red” at Grove St.). The real solution is less car traffic, so let’s put our “studies” to that goal. Thanks for the info, Will.

  19. I worry about the timing of this decision considering the proposals to push Storrow into the Charles so the pike project can happen- I have a strange feeling that this might lead to a legal loophole that would not require community input of major decisions for that particular project. I would like more information the on motivation to make this change (why now?) and how that would impact the community’s input on the pike project proposal.

  20. For many years I have been an advocate for the improvement of accessibility to the Charles for Brighton/Allston residents. There has always been a lack of funding to enable DCR to do much to improve the situation-not even to the extent of gaining crosswalks or pedestrian signals.
    On the other hand I am fearful that DOT will interfere with the minimal areas that are used as parklands by so many of our residents in spite of the difficulty in getting there. The idea of putting traffic over the river for ten years or more is terrible idea environmentally and if this is the only solution DOT can come up with I would have to go with leaving control in the hands of DCR and hopefully with more funding.

  21. Wow. So many devils in the details here, as well as future consequences to think about.
    1. I worry that this will set a precedent and that ALL parkside roads will eventually end up as crowded highways, rendering our beautiful park system a virtual island. With development raging in Boston and surrounding communities, I see shades of Storrow and Mem drive beginning to look like FDR in NYC. How can we keep that from happening?
    2. What does this mean for the local park roads feeding into Boston from Brighton, Watertown, Cambridge? In Watertown, you have been working with a neighborhood I am part of to put sidewalks across Charles River Rd., making access to the river across the road safer, in light of increasing traffic. If this road is transferred to Watertown, we will have to start all over with our corrupt and intransigent DPW. Watertown is under heavy development stressors which the town is incapable of dealing with, and our roads are gridlock during rush hour. Recently, we had to rush to stop an inane town plan to make CRR one way, isolating our neighborhood and sending rush hour traffic onto the local streets. I will say that dual ownership of this road between DCR and Watertown leads to a lot of confusion. But I am afraid of what will happen if we have to deal with our DPW. As it is, we struggle with them over the vast amounts of salt they put down on these roads which drain into the river.
    3. What is in these plans that ensures protection of and access to the river in Boston, while the huge Allston project is going on? I was hoping DCR would create tunnels under the bridges along Storrow for pedestrians and Bicycles during the recent bridge work. This was a great opportunity lost, and is even more necessary if Storrow becomes like FDR. Is DCR or MassDOT more concerned with these issues, especially with access to the river? Who will do a better job?
    4. I agree with many here that intruding into the river, even temporarily, is problematic. How do we ensure MassDOT would be a good steward since their focus is not on parks?
    5. We should wait for the report before starting any project. That is obvious.
    6. And finally, considering the recent bill passed to raise money from cars to fund the T, why aren’t we getting money from developers who are building, and building, and causing the congestion, then walking away with millions? I believe that we should have a fund that levies a small fee on every apt and luxury condo built that would go to public transportation.

  22. I drive both roads daily, as well as the mass pike, sometimes depending on traffic. I cannot imagine if the overall capacity was reduced. I am a proponent of parks and green spaces, but the river is beautiful as it is, and the roads should be kept up to date. I agree with you Will that transferring the ownership to MassDOT is probably a win win for all involved.

  23. It seems to make sense to transfer the roads to MassDOT, provided, as you are saying, that the parks and pedestrian/bike paths are protected. I wholeheartedly support your interest in remaking Storrow Drive, it’s a shame such a major roadway largely cuts off access to the Charles. Given many other cities like Paris and St. Louis have downgraded riverside roadways, I would support studying if such a move is possible, perhaps with some protection for the hospitals along the way.

  24. Senator Will: While reading your explanation of the contemplated shift of responsiblity for the road sysemt, and the comments of all the concerned citizens, I envisioned the original purpose of these river side roadways to accomodate horse and carriage excursions on a Sunday afternoon, along with the old covered band structures, women with long flowing dresses and men in suits and straw hats, couples accompanied by their children, out to enjoy the day(s). Long gone, pleasure changed to pursuit of commerce. I am for whatever pays the bills. Screw the attempt for toll road application; absolutely necessary to retain the park like environment; road into the Charles? surely they jest, however, if neccessary, there must be a iron clad guarantee that it be removed immediately upon completion of the project. Funds? Hmmm increased taxes ie., bond issues? There is currenlty a movement to significantly add to the gasoline tax; additonally, there is yet another movement to implement “climate” motivated taxes. Shortage of funds? Why in God’s name would the Commonwealth provide free health care and monetary allowances to undocumented foreigners that involves BILLIONS of dollars annually? Something is screw loose here. As far as changing responsibilities for the maintenance of the roadways and byways, leave it alone until the “study” is completed.

  25. I am opposed to the Mass DOT taking over any land under DCR jursidiction. I have seen to much chagrin the disaster and absolute eyesore the now defunct Brighton swimming pool has become. Basically an outdoor storage for DOT supplies and equipment. This is not acceptable. The Brighton residents have no outdoor swimming pool which means many kids only have the Y as a way to learn how to swim. The waterpark accross from the Boston Skating Club is totally overcrowded in the Summer. We need to increase the resources of DCR rather than giving land to MassDOT. Having an outdoor pool in Brighton would be great too. Waltham has a very nice one with much less resources then Boston.

  26. Thanks for this very useful summary and informational resource. I think DCR is not the right entity to be in charge of a roadway like this (their unresponsiveness to an elected representative is only one indication). Nor can a parks agency handle the major work on SFR/Storrow that is apparently necessary. Mass/DOT is better suited, both now and especially going forward. So I favor the transfer to Mass/DOT, but feel it should be thought through and done very carefully, taking care to maintain and preserve protections for the Esplanade and the Charles.

  27. A number of years ago, a study was done about parkways and the state highway’s desire to control them. I am sure this document is available in the StateHouse Library or at DCR headquarters. Parkways are parks with roads running through them and not roads with a little green along side that may or may not be cared for. DCR and MassDOT will forever be struggling with who owns and cares for the edges, leaving the general public with the untidy roadside. Furthermore, MassDOT is concerned with getting the traffic through and much less interested in the landscape. Just remember how so many trees were cut down on the mid cape highway before the DOT could be stopped. The damage was done. The DCR is an organization that has Planning capability and understands the need to work with the public. If the DCR is not responsive to issues, we need to understand what happened when the MDC was incorporated into the state park system. The number of personnel available for the metropolitan region dropped as personnel were assigned to other areas of the state. This merger was supposed to make everything work more efficiently but of course with less staff, the Agency was less efficient. The parkways deserve to be treated well and making them more efficient will only attract more traffic and create further gridlock. I hope you will work to protect the parkways not destroy them. Keep your emphasis on expanding public transportation.

  28. I am skeptical of this proposal, Will. It needs to be studied thoroughly, not least because of the jurisdictional contradictions it will create. The situation in Charlesgate illustrates this well. The Commonwealth transferred the Bowker Overpass from the DCR to MassDOT in 2009, although the parkland and river remain under DCR jurisdiction. Since then, the physical and social environmental here has worse and worse. Divided jurisdiction is a major contributor. Example: both the park and the river here are polluted by untreated stormwater from the Bowker Overpass every time it rains. Stormwater needs to be treated, but it’s not easy with divided jurisdictions. Amazing but true: the stormwater belongs to the DOT as long as it’s in the Bowker drain pipes, but the moment it spashes out onto the parkland or into the river, it’s DCR’s problem. The DCR is so underfunded that it does not have resources to deal with “MassDOT stormwater.” The result: untreated stormwater pollutes Charlesgate Park and the Muddy River every time it rains. Nobody is clearly responsible to clean it, so nothing ever gets done. This situation continues year after year, and there are many other examples. It’s easy to imagine similar things happening all along the SFR/Storrow corridor.

  29. MA DOT mission statement:

    “Our mission is to deliver excellent customer service to people traveling in the Commonwealth by providing transportation infrastructure which is safe, reliable, robust and resilient. We work to provide a transportation system which can strengthen the state’s economy and improve the quality of life for all.”

    Nothing here about parks….

    DCR mission statement:

    “To protect, promote and enhance our common wealth of natural, cultural and recreational resources for the well-being of all.

    In meeting today’s responsibilities and planning for tomorrow, DCR’s focus is on:

    -Improving outdoor recreational opportunities and natural resource conservation
    -Restoring and improving our facilities
    -Expanding public involvement in carrying out DCR’s mission, and
    -Establishing first-rate management systems and practices.

    The health and happiness of people across Massachusetts depend on the accessibility and quality of our green infrastructure – our natural resources, recreational facilities, and great historic landscapes. The DCR continues to improve the vital connection between people and the environment.”

    Not much here about roads, unless you include “facilities”…

    Regardless off how successful each agency is at getting their job done, their mission statements are entirely different. The parklands along the river will suffer as a result of a transfer to MA DOT. It would be great if DCR would be given supervisory power over the MA DOT when the two overlap. In that scenario, give the road maintenance and construction to MA DOT; but give DCR veto power over MA DOT’s tendency to ignore the slower moving infrastructure and inherent beauty of the parks adjacent to and surrounding the roads.

    Also, finish the study before making momentous decisions. Why does the government continue to put the cart before the horse?

  30. I think it is complicated. DCR does nothing, as we know from Charlesgate Park, but DOT will just take whatever they want and do whatever they want. I think this really has to do with taking whatever land they ultimately want when they fix Storrow Drive and the Overpass ramps and really anything else along these roadways. If it is their property there will not be as much public process. That said – they do whatever they want anyway !

  31. Thanks to Sen. Will for communication on this matter.
    I oppose the transfer and support the many constituents above who prioritize protection of the park-purposed corridor of SFR/Storrow and public transit. I’ve had my problems with DCR, but at least their primary mission is aligned with stewardship of conservation & recreation resources. Our state agencies have been cursed for decades by the twin evils of those who historically viewed them primarily as patronage (leading to poor service) and those who are against any communitarian effort to improve our commonwealth (intentional small ‘c’) (leading to no service). DCR needs more resources plus diligent oversight. Moving jurisdiction over these historical river parkways will not solve whatever problems exist but will hamper a coordinated approach to their future management with the river reservations. As noted, if DCR lacks the expertise for a one-time project, outsourcing or inter-agency agreement is the better approach. I’m amused by the typo (or perhaps Freudian slip) in one comment about “support [for] DNR” — as in “do not resuscitate.” I fear the proposed transfer will really be a DNR directive.

  32. Let’s make parks and rivers priority one. Let DCR keep control. Fund DCR so they can manage the parks and parkways. Don’t put road into river. Make public transport much better to relieve pressure on roads.

  33. First and foremost, I believe that neither the governor nor the legislature can transfer OWNERSHIP of anything which belongs to the commonwealth’s residents without the consent of the commonwealth’s voters.

    All that can happen, I believe, is that the responsibilities for the wise administration of any commonwealth property portions can be re-assigned.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  34. What is DCR’s historic record of effectively maintaining river roads (despite shortages in both staffing and funding) vs. Mass DOT’s record? Does either entity have a vision which includes long-term conservation efforts, climate change resilience, and public connectivity to the Charles River? Which entity is most likely to adopt a thoughtful approach to balancing the needs of humans needing to get to the Longwood Medical area and protecting the river? Surely, we can do more than simply address road jurisdiction.

    One more thought: Boston is not the only city in the country with a heavily trafficked corridor adjacent to a body of water. It would be worthwhile to examine how other communities have been able to manage their river roads – and consult with the myriad of urban planning experts from our highly-regarded local universities. Even just one meeting would yield some valuable insight while costing nothing in staffing and funding.

    p.s. The verbiage re MassDOT’s power of eminent domain within, under, and abutting the river is frightening. Reason enough not to transfer ownership.

    p.s. 2 You noted that “[t]here is a powerful argument that now is the time to reverse the priorities of the last century and turn the river roads back into easily crossed boulevards better connecting surrounding neighborhoods to the river. As deeply as I love that vision, I cannot vouch for it as realistic.” As someone who cares about her city, I say why must we settle for the status quo in all things government all the time? If our traffic is expected to increase exponentially as development continues, the tax base (funding) should also increase exponentially. If now is not the time to take agency of our river roads, we will never have positive progressive change of any kind. In other words, no “nice things” for the citizens of Boston as usual.

  35. My principal reaction to this proposal is concern about the process by which the Governor has reached this conclusion while communities most directly affected by the change and its consequences have hardly had a chance to weigh in. This is very disturbing, coming on the heels of the announcement that the Hynes Convention Center will be sold, which took all of us by surprise and has been shown to be based on a series of highly implausible assumptions, also with no community inputs despite assurances to the contrary. I agree that it is premature to make this move before the results of the Environmental Affairs study and public process worthy of the name and description.

  36. MassDOT should not be responsible for our parkway roads. I think waiting for the report’s findings, if possible, would be ideal [otherwise they could have used that $ to pay more people or plant things!]. I understand DCR is overwhelmed. I think it makes sense to see if something can be done to help the deal with it, or pass it to municipalities. Transit…yes [bus lane?]. Tolls…yes . Definitely not more highways! And they are absolutly not more important than our river!!!! That’s crazy talk.

  37. Transfer makes sense to DOT, especially with the SFR and Storrow Projects. DCR can focus on its core missions of maintenance of a highway is off its plate. Preserve the esplanade and let the highway guys run the highway. The notion that Storrow can look like Commonwealth Ave is unrealistic. Something like the High Line or West Side Highway, especially in lower Manhattan, is possible; however, this needs to have legitimate vehicular capacity or the entire Longwood Area and Fenway/Brookline will be incapable of access to getting in and out of the city.

  38. I will echo what several others have said: Having MassDOT manage all state roads makes sense, especially if they are not able to currently handle all of their obligations. Allowing the MassDOT to focus on state transportation use their resources and expertise efficiently would be my feeling based on what’s been presented here.

  39. It makes no sense to vote on the transfer before the study is completed. Surely the study will take into consideration future flooding in the Charles as well as environmental considerations – which you don’t mention. Based on what we know now, I would oppose the transfer of ownership to the DOT and oppose putting the road in the river even temporarily.

  40. The DCR is not in the roads business, the DOT is. I would be in favor of this switch

  41. I don’t have a car, but I do bike the Charles River path fairly regularly. I just want whoever takes charge to maintain a bike path during any construction, and not force cyclists into that road.

  42. In general it makes sense to me for SFR/Storrow to be managed by MassDOT, whether by an inter-agency agreement or transferring their ownership (I don’t know enough about the legal implications of ownership to take a position on which of these is preferable), but it certainly seems much more sensible and reasonable to wait on this decision till the study by Environmental Affairs is released. One point in favor of retaining at least some DCR control of Storrow is that, presumably, it makes it easier for them to shut some or all lanes of it for events on the Esplanade. Also, in a similar vein, what is the current/proposed status of Memorial Drive?

  43. Storrow / SFR are, in fact, part of the state highway system, and therefore deserve to be treated as such. Transferring them to MassDOT only makes sense.
    I agree with the conclusion that we need these roads to continue to be highways for the foreseeable future. Think of how much traffic they keep out of Back Bay, Allston, Cambridge, etc!! I don’t see much benefit, and I see considerable harm, from converting them to boulevards. (The harm: to carry the same amount of traffic, the number of lanes would have to increase if there are traffic signals.) In Back Bay, the frequent footbridges prevent Storrow from being a serious barrier, and we can do the same as SFR is rebuilt in Allston.
    The conclusion about the Bowker Overpass, however, is wrong; we can have the traffic capacity needed if it is brought down to surface level, as demonstrated in a student project I advised (video is at, and the presentation pdf is at Getting rid of that overpass and the ramps to/from it is the key to widening the Esplanade at that choke point, greatly expanding Charlesgate Park, and connecting those two parks.

  44. I am opposed to the transfer of Storrow and SFR to Mass DOT. Currently the posted speed on these roads is 40mph. I can see Mass DOT widening the roadways and increasing the speed to 60 or more miles per hour.
    It will be horrible to put a temp road over the river. Years were spent trying to clean the waters of the Charles and it is nearing a stage where people will be able to have designated swimming areas again. Are we going to send the rowers to the ER if they fall into a newly polluted river? Where is all the road salt and sand going to go in the winter (into the river). A decade is a long time. Boston is lucky to have such a beautiful river and park land. The most important thing is to keep what we have green and clean. No matter how many roads and bridges are built the traffic will increase (“if you build it they will come”). Improved public transportation is the only real solution to Boston’s traffic congestion and pollution. A rail stop and bus station at the Alston yard is a major first step.

  45. The best predictor of MassDOT’s intents are their prior actions. After promising that the Charlesgate Park areas would be better than before after the Bowker Rehab, not a single tree has been planted. When asked about it after the work was done, MassDOT only funded $1.3m towards a bike lane that has yet to be built because they “don’t fund parks, just transportation projects”.

  46. The small print matters: if DOT takes over the roadways, how will decisions that have an impact on the parkland be made? What role will DCR continue to play to preserve the parks? Also, what is the Commonwealth’s strategy for the river roads in light of sea level rise, increased weather extremes, carbon dioxide reduction, etc. Can the DOT manage these roadways in the context of improving _transportation_ to and from Boston, not merely improving single-occupancy vehicle driving to and from Boston? Having an integrated long-term, funded strategy should proceed deciding who manages what.

  47. I think it’s time to accept that we cannot reduce driving as the transportation mode of choice without taking space away from automobiles. Cities around the world are ripping out highways without the disastrous consequences that some people predicted. Paris and Madrid have both removed highways in the center of their cities. Sure, some drivers will get annoyed, but people adapt. And with all this new transportation revenue, we should be able to provide some alternatives. I think we are being way too timid about pissing off drivers. I oppose taking this land away from DCR. People have a right to a high quality of life in the City, and yet time after time, we prioritize the needs of big business and out-of-town commuters and travelers at the expense of people who live in the city. We should be investing in major alternatives to highways, and instead we are doubling down on 20th century thinking. But what do I know, I’m just a certified city planner.

  48. Senator Brownsberger I wonder if you have connected your concerns that DCR is ‘overwhelmed with its responsibilities…’ with the fact that the Environmental League reports state budget cuts have meant that 30% of DCR’s workforce have been slashed over the past seven years. Restoring resources to DCR should be priority one to enable the agency’s dedicated parkways staff to properly care for and maintain the parkways and the parklands they pass through.

    Regarding your statement Senator that you support parkways transfer to MassDOT to “help DCR focus on its core park assets and may lead to better management and maintenance of the roadways under an agency focused on transportation” it is important to state that DCR’s focus on parkways is a focus on parks. Associative funding for parkway improvements includes funding to upgrade the parklands the roadways pass through.

    This associative funding with its focus on parks would be lost with parkways transfer to MassDOT.

    Secondly, the MassDOT record does not provide confidence. A March 8 Globe editorial stated that “Within New England, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont all keep their administrative costs below $10,000 per mile. But Massachusetts pours a mind-boggling $23,950 per mile into highway administration. And what does it achieve for all that spending? One of the worst-run highway systems in the nation.” Reason Foundation’s 2019 Annual Highway Report places Massachusetts 46th in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness. DOT is not the answer — let’s rally for restoring funds to DCR so the agency can carry out its important mission regarding care, custody and control of our historic parkways and parklands.

    1. Your point is well taken. I totally agree that we should be pushing for DCR funding and that is one of my top priorities every year. Please review my past official communications to our Ways and Means Committee here

      But lots of state agencies have taken deep cuts — our ability to staff public agencies with the revenue growth that we have had is not what any of us would like it to be. So, we have to be conscious of our options. My goal in this post is not to advocate for an outcome, but to start the conversation.

      Please don’t take that Reason report to the bank. I’ve been to North Dakota. There is no comparison between maintaining a strip of asphalt in North Dakota and an urban Massachusetts road with curbs, intersections, businesses who want parking, etc. I have that report on my desk and would like to get around to doing some deeper analysis, but Jeff Jacoby’s piece was a thoughtless hatchet job.

  49. Thank you for your leadership on this important issue. The Special Commission you proposed through legislation will provide an opportunity for thoughtful discussion, and hopefully there will be opportunities for public input. Their report deadline is Dec. 1, 2020.

    In contrast, Gov. Baker’s proposed transfer of 4 parkways (including Storrow Drive & Soldiers Field Rd.) by Aug. 1, 2020 seems hasty.

    There are many troubling aspects of the proposed transfer. Here are a few:
    • The parkways are part of Boston’s park system and as such have multiple constituencies: not only drivers, but also people using them for recreation & active transportation. The parkways need to be managed by an agency with experience meeting the needs of all users & one that values non-motorized uses.
    • Gov. Baker’s proposal to transfer 4 parkways four months before the study commission report is finished seems arbitrary & pre-mature at best. It starts with a conclusion, with no explanation or safeguards in place.
    • Why were these 4 parkways selected by Gov. Baker for transfer?
    • At a cost of $425,000 for the study commission, why not wait for them to do their work?

    • DCR has experienced significant budget cuts & reduced staff, especially since 2008. Hopefully the study commission will consider an option of funding DCR adequately to care for its full range of resources.

    • The proposed transfer doesn’t value the parkways as integral assets of the Commonwealth’s Metropolitan Park System, America’s first regional park system.
    • Metropolitan Park System of Greater Boston–Massachusetts Conservation: A Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary – Homepage (U.S. National Park Service)
    • Many of the National Register listed parkways, including the Blue Hills Parkway, Lynn Fells Parkway, and Charles River Reservation Parkways, were designed and landscaped by famous landscape architects such as Arthur A. Shurcliff, landscaper for Colonial Williamsburg (1928-41), and the firm of Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot.

    • There is language that appears to leave the land abutting the road at risk:

    “The department shall have power, in the process of constructing, reconstructing, repairing, rehabilitating, improving, policing, using or administering all or any part of the state highway system to take by eminent domain pursuant to chapter 79, such land abutting the state highway system as it may deem necessary or desirable for the purposes of removing or relocating all or any part of the facilities of any public utility, including rail lines, . . ..”General Laws, Chapter 6C, Section 19

    • A quote from your May 2, 2019 summary of the Storrow tunnel work states that MassDOT & DCR collaborate well and both will remain involved throughout the process.” If that’s the case, why are we even discussing transfer?

    Here are an excerpt & link:

    “Fortunately, MassDOT’s Highway Administrator led the previous process of reconstruction of the tunnel as a DCR engineer (before transferring to MassDOT). The two agencies collaborate well and both will remain involved throughout the process.”
    • Storrow Drive Tunnel Update – Will Brownsberger
    • The closing permanently or temporarily the Storrow underpass at Arlington Street for the needed long term improvement would be made much more difficult, perhaps impossible, if the existence of the bike lane currently under study on Beacon Street from Berkeley to Mass Ave. is made permanent.

    • We agree whole-heartedly with Anne Paulsen, Parker James, Mike Ryan & others above who said the PARKWAYS should stay with the agency that sees them as integral parts of the park system, NOT the agency that is about HIGHWAYS.

    Coordination for expensive repairs, e. g. for funding & expertise, can be done without changing permanent custody.

    Let’s find a way to get the work done without permanently diminishing these precious resources!

  50. Thank you, Senator Brownsberger, for the opportunity to provide input on the proposed transfer of several parkways, including Soldiers Field Road and Storrow Drive, from the Department of Conservation and Recreation to the Department of Transportation. I write on behalf of Charles River Watershed Association. This proposed transfer directly affects parklands along the Charles, and we strongly oppose it.

    Parkways are intended to be slower, scenic roads that provide a direct connection between people and parks. They are an integral part of a park system, and if done right, provide safe access for vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians alike. If these roads are transferred to MassDOT, we will be giving up that vision. They will likely be used to carry even more vehicles at higher speeds, becoming barriers to our parks rather than bringing people to them.

    Transferring parkways to MassDOT would also foreclose the possibility of ever returning those lands to parkland. In this era of climate change, we need to make decisions about land use that consider future climate conditions, not just current traffic needs. Many of these roads are located along waters like the Charles River and Boston Harbor and are already flooding. The flooding is only going to get worse and transferring them to MassDOT won’t solve the problem. If there is a possibility of returning these lands to parkland, in the future, they may be able to enhance Boston’s climate resilience by providing a greater buffer between the river and communities. A MassDOT highway does not afford that same opportunity, and in fact, only exacerbates the problem.

    We are also deeply concerned about some of your statements above regarding MassDOT’s plan to relocate Soldiers Field Road into the Charles River. In noting that the project faces many state and federal permitting challenges, you assert that “the designation of SFR/Storrow as part of the state highway system appears to address at least one of those legal issues by implicitly giving the Commonwealth’s consent to the use of the land underlying the Charles.”

    Transferring Soldiers Field Road from one state agency to another does not equate to the Commonwealth giving permission to use the Charles River and the land beneath it for an unnecessary roadway. Regardless, even projects that have “consent” from the state, whether implicit or explicit, do not get a free pass on state permitting. A third state agency, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, is responsible for permitting this project. There are specific requirements in statute and regulation that MassDEP must follow when making permitting decisions. And just like any private project, if the legal requirements for obtaining a permit cannot be met, MassDEP cannot issue a permit.

    We also note that the land underlying the Charles is not owned by the state, it is owned by the public. That land is held by the Commonwealth in trust for the public. Decisions about what can and cannot be done on that land are to be made based on what is in the public interest, which is not always the same as the state’s interest. The “legal issues” you refer to are actually legal protections for the public’s rights in these lands, protections that ensure the state is acting in the public’s best interests. Attempting an end run around the state permitting process would certainly not serve those interests.

    Senator Brownsberger, you were a signatory to a 2008 letter opposing the transfer of parkways from DCR to Mass Highways. That letter stated unequivocally that “Parkways are not highways, and they should not be treated as such.” It also said that “the focus of the highway department is simply to move vehicles as effectively as possible from point A to point B. This is not nor has it ever been the way the Commonwealth has treated our parkways.” The letter emphasized that parkways “not only operate as roadways but they also serve as links to our expansive park system, providing continuity with our open space.”

    We hope you will continue to support our parkways and oppose the ill-conceived transfer to MassDOT.

    1. Regardless, even projects that have “consent” from the state, whether implicit or explicit, do not get a free pass on state permitting. Completely agree that huge permitting barriers remain — just suggesting one possible administration motivation for the transfer.

  51. While I understand and appreciate the concern you’re approaching this issue with, the fact is that DCR has shown itself absolutely incapable of managing these roadways safely. DCR owned roads are some of the most dangerous and poorly maintained roads in the city, with incredibly bad pedestrian and bike features, dated signals that are poorly timed and hard to see and generally poor quality roadways. They also are an incredibly opaque agency, with very little public input or transparency. As much as I dislike some of the potential legal ramifications of moving these roads to MassDOT, I think they are absolutely better equipped to handle them and bring them up to a 21st century standard. Unless you plan on overhauling DCR and giving it the resources and staff it needs to properly manage the roadways they have, I think it would be better if they stuck to park management and MassDOT took over these vital roadways.

    This weekend I was walking along Morrissey Blvd as an excuse to get out of the house and I was appalled at the sidewalk, or lack thereof. Completely inaccessible, giant curbs, barely a 3ft strip of asphalt, no ped signals, etc. Same with Storrow and SFR. I think MassDOT has proven better equipped to quickly implement real changes to these roads to improve them for all. Just maybe it’s time to force them to drop some unnecessary lanes and add intersections and make them real city roads.

  52. I believe that the COVID-19 Pandemic has made it clear that we should be keeping parkways under the jurisdiction of MassDCR and focusing on the Park aspect. Emphasis on promoting the movement of people NOT vehicles should be a priority. More road diets, bike lanes and pedestrian spaces as well as bus lanes should be a priority for post COVID as well.
    I am not sure of any MassDOT jurisdiction roads where road diets have been made for COVID-19.
    Parkways should stay under jurisdiction of parks.

  53. I think ongoing maintenance of the river roads should be transferred to the cities of Boston and Cambridge (with appropriate budgets, of course). They are much better at handling citizen requests regarding issues like potholes, street lights, broken signs, trash etc. I’ve been reporting issues to both DOT and DCR for years using their clunky web form (DOT) or generic email address (DCR). I’m lucky if I ever get an acknowledgement, let alone actually have the issues addresses. See, for example, the 3rd-world state of the streetlights along Memorial Drive, or the horrendous amounts of trash along state highways. Boston and Cambridge have 311 systems where requests can be submitted and tracked. Of course with issues on the river roads, all they can do is apologize on behalf of DCR. Will there ever be a 311 system for state properties? The lack of communication and accountability is outrageous.

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