It’s been called the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s the state’s I-90 Allston Interchange Improvement Project to straighten out the giant swerve the Mass Pike takes where it passes by a former freight rail yard and through the former toll booths in Allston.
For the Charles River Watershed Association and a handful of other environmental groups, the opportunity is much much more than a transportation project. It’s not just a chance to reimagine and reconfigure the existing tangle of highways, ramps, roadways and bridges alongside and over that section of the Charles River. It’s an opportunity to add parkland, walking and bike paths and restore the badly degraded and eroded riverbank from the BU Bridge to the River Street Bridge.
That is what brought CRWA members and staff onto the site earlier this month to participate-- along with WalkBoston, the Charles River Conservancy and the Esplanade Association-- in what was billed as the Charles River “Throat” Site Walk. It’s inelegantly called the throat because the hemmed in narrow corridor under the Pike viaduct and alongside Storrow Drive is one of the grottiest and grimiest sections anywhere along the entire Charles River. (Think strep!) The organizations are working together to “unchoke the throat.”
I-90 Allston Interchange picture from the Boston Globe by David Ryan.
Sadly, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation has not yet bought in to the cure. Its draft environmental impact statement for the $1 billion project failed to embrace packaging the highway upgrade with full restoration of the riverbank or adding adequate parklands and improved bike and walking paths.
In a letter to Mass DOT, the groups are urging the state to think big by broadening its concept of the project. Specifically, the state should consider “re-establishment of a more natural (river) edge, stormwater management and increased floodplain connectivity and storage for resiliency,” among other environmental upgrades.
CRWA is well positioned to advocate for these changes. Through its Green Infrastructure Demonstration Projects, CRWA has already modeled more than a half dozen sites from Boston to Blackstone that incorporate the design of natural green corridors and infrastructure to help treat stormwater runoff before it enters the Charles and its tributaries. This is accomplished through the use of rain gardens, plant filtration and infiltration into the ground, all while enhancing neighborhoods and connecting existing open spaces.
Insuring permeability and resiliency for the considerable expanse of land (up to 100 acres) that could be freed up by the highway project is particularly important as there are currently seven distinct water catchments and 13 drainage outfalls along that very stretch of the river.
Boston always seems to be grappling with the next big project. Way back in the day it was filling the Back Bay and creating the Esplanade. More recently it was the Big Dig and the Zakim Bridge. Now comes another opportunity of a lifetime, and Massachusetts should not miss it.
Read more about the I-90 Allston Interchange Improvement Project in the Boston Globe here.