The Department of Con-servation and Recreation (DCR), along with partners such as Wynn Boston Harbor, unveiled the design for the much-heralded Mystic Crossing pedestrian/bicycle bridge – a critical connection between Charlestown, Everett, Somerville and a host of other communities connected by bike paths.
DCR Project Manager Dan Driscoll introduced the project at a meeting on Monday night, Feb. 12, in the Partners Building at Assembly Row – a meeting well-attended by Charlestown residents.
“This is a big effort to introduce connectivity in the region and provide communities like Everett on the other side of the Mystic River with access to the T station, Assembly Row and into Boston,” he said. “This bridge is the critical connection to get to Boston without having to take Rt. 99 and Alford Street.”
The bridge was designed by AECOMM, and in particular by James Marks, who has created a sleek, curved bridge supported by a side beam and an arch. The bridge structure appears to be repeating ‘V’s’ in the water – an effort to minimize the numbers of pillars in the water and to keep the bridge at the mandatory 37 feet for water vessels to pass under.
Driscoll said the Mystic Crossing is important because the DCR has invested in numerous new bike/pedestrian paths lately to go with many that already exist. Other missing pieces, such as the stretch of the Northern Strand Community Path next to Wynn Boston Harbor, he said.
Another similar piece in the works on the Somerville side is the refurbishment of the DCR’s Draw 7 Park, which will house paths and a new soccer field.
A final major piece on the Charlestown side of the river by the MBTA bus yard is a bike path that will be on top of a brand-new sea bulkhead project. That $33 million project is meant to help with flooding and coastal resiliency in that area of the Mystic River – and to protect the backside of Charlestown – but the DCR has been working with the MBTA to provide a connecting bike/pedestrian path between the new bridge and Charlestown.
“That project will be at 100-percent design by summer,” he said. “The goal is to integrate the path into the bulkhead project so we don’t have to do a separate bid on that path,” he said.
All of those efforts, Driscoll said, lead to one pressure point, the Mystic Crossing bridge, which makes it a key part of the infrastructure and will likely draw many more bike commuters to Charlestown from the North Shore and Mystic Valley.
It’s also a key part of the Wynn Boston Harbor project, which envisions using the path significantly to gain access to the Assembly MBTA station.
AECOMM’s Christine Baker said they have designed the bridge based on studies showing usage to be about 2,390 users per day on weekdays and 2,710 users per day on weekends. Many in the audience felt that was very low, and that perhaps larger volumes should be used in planning for the bridge.
“This is going to be a large crossing,” said Steve Winslow of Bike to the Sea. “Your estimates might end up being two or three times lower than the actual usage once we get the Northern Strand connected. That’s something to think about.”
The bridge deck is 14 feet wide, and has a dramatic curve, she said, so that it can stay above 37 feet tall and also be able to dip under the adjacent railroad bridge on the Somerville side. The plan also calls for distinctive color lighting on and under the bridge at night.
Marks said they have emphasized the views of Charlestown, and have left that side open to promote those views.
One major obstacle is the fact that the bridge is estimated to cost $22.6 million to design and construct. While Wynn has indicated to the DCR that it would contribute to that in some fashion, no hard and fast numbers have been agreed upon.
Beyond Wynn, the state has not identified any funding sources to build the bridge, so it currently is a design without an allocation.
Beyond the funding, another major issue is maintenance of the bridge – which also hasn’t been decided. While DCR will do some of it, a major worry is to remove snow, even down to one inch so that safety is paramount. Many are worried that cyclists could hit ice and fly off the bridge into the water.
That aspect has yet to be solved, but many in the audience were calling for the bridge design to include a heated mat on the surface to melt snow – perhaps using solar power. Marks said it’s technically possible, but installing that kind of system could change the height of the bridge, which is not possible.
Many Charlestown residents provided comment, but Nathan Blanchette of Charlestown provided one of the better suggestions to getting around Sullivan Square by bicycle and foot. While the new bike/pedestrian bridge and path system is quickly coming online from Lynn to Charlestown to downtown Boston – a major cog is still safely moving through Sullivan Square.
Blanchette suggested going under the Alford Street Bridge to Ryan Playground – thus avoiding the Square altogether.
“My son, daughter, wife and I would love to be able to use this bridge and bike to Assembly Row and beyond from Charlestown, but right now we can’t do that,” he said. “That is crazy because it’s all right there. When you’re working on the connections to this new bridge, I would ask that you could go under the Alford Street Bridge. It would allow a community of 15,000 people access without having to go into Sullivan Square to get to these new areas.”
A precedent for such a thing does exist just down the Mystic River, where a boardwalk path under the Rt. 28 bridge has been in existence for two years.