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Bulk of Muddy River traffic changes now in place

Posted by  November 20, 2013 02:35 PM

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Courtesy of the Muddy River Restoration Project

By Jill Bongiorni, Globe Correspondent

Although a number of new traffic changes in Fenway are now underway, Muddy River restoration planners say they expect the massive project to cause few disruptions in the months ahead.

The changes are necessitated by the Muddy River Flood Risk Management and Environmental Restoration project, set for completion in 2016. The $30.9 million project seeks to manage flood risk and improve river flow in the Fenway area by restoring parts of the river that currently run through underground pipes, improving water quality, enhancing habitats and rehabilitating the landscape.

Project Manager Mike Keegan of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the project has been proceeding smoothly so far. 

“The changes we made for traffic have worked well,” he said. “People are getting used to them, and traffic is flowing pretty reasonably through the area, so we’re happy about that. We’re making good progress.”

Others are just happy that the project has broken ground, after nearly two decades of planning and negotiating between grassroots advocates and federal, state and city officials. 

“It was a long time coming,” said Julie Crockford, president of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy and member of the Muddy River project’s management cabinet. “It feels wonderful to see grassroots advocacy result in such a big public works project. It’s exciting to look ahead and think this river will probably be navigable ... It will change how people think about this area.”

Flooding of the Muddy River, a series of brooks and ponds that run through sections of Boston’s Emerald Necklace, has significant potential to impact nearby colleges, commercial properties, residences, museums and MBTA stations. The river has flooded three times since October 1996, the worst of which happened that year, submerging Kenmore station and wreaking about $50 million in damages.

“Once you flood the stations, you’ve caused millions of dollars in damages, and it takes months and months of repairs -- and then you have to bus people around,” Keegan said.

The project is currently in Phase 1, which includes installation of a 10-foot by 24-foot culvert under the Brookline Avenue roadway and a similar culvert under the Riverway roadway. It also entails restoring parts of the river that flow underneath the old Sears parking lot (between the Riverway and Brookline Avenue) and expanding the Upper Fens Pond to the Park Drive jug handle. This restoration, called daylighting, involves removing two existing 72-inch culverts and excavating the areas to return the previously concealed waterways to their natural states. It will not only restore and transform the historic Olmsted Waterway, but also will provide temporary storage during flooding, eliminate the need to maintain the old culverts, and help fish migrate upstream.

“It’s going to be so exciting to have the vistas opened up, to have the river clean, to have it deeper,” Crockford said.

To date, construction teams have poured foundations for wing walls; placed pile caps for 26 drilled shafts, which act as underground columns to hold the weight of the culvert; poured invert slab, which acts as a floor for the culvert; and installed several culvert sections under Brookline Avenue.

In order to access the area, underground utilities were temporary relocated, and various traffic changes were implemented in late September. Adjustments included making the block of Brookline Avenue that straddles the Riverway, previously a two-way street, one-way going inbound; a detour requiring drivers to travel around the Sears rotary to go outbound on Brookline Avenue; installation of a dedicated right turn lane at the Riverway Connector and Brookline Avenue intersection; and installation of several new pedestrian crosswalks and traffic signals, including at the end of the Riverway where it intersects with Park Drive.

Keegan said he received feedback from some residents relieved that the new signal at the Riverway and Park Drive eliminated a “war zone” that had existed before, when drivers tried to merge onto the Riverway Connector. This signal, along with two others, will remain in place after construction is completed.

“It certainly didn’t get worse,” said Bill Richardson, president of the Fenway Civic Association. “What used to happen, of course, would be traffic heading south of Brookline Ave. would block the box of Park Drive going across, and you’d get that gridlock affect. I haven’t seen that.” 

Keegan expects the current traffic changes to remain in place until early summer, when there will be a slight movement of the Brookline Avenue lanes, as the culvert installation moves across the avenue. Keegan said the changes necessary for installing the second culvert at the Riverway and Park Drive intersection will be less disruptive. 

Designs for Phase 2 are currently underway and will involve dredging upstream and downstream to take sediments out and creating a channel for improved river flow.

“I think the long-term result will be so worth the short pain,” Crockford said.

This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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