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No fix in sight for Kosciuszko Circle issues

Posted by Patrick Rosso  May 6, 2013 02:08 PM

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(Image courtesy Boston Redevelopment Authority)

A map of intersections and roadways proposed in the Columbia Point Master Plan.

Kosciuszko Circle, which funnels traffic from I-93, Columbia Road, Day Boulevard, and Morrissey Boulevard into Dorchester and South Boston, can be a nightmare for drivers.

With long back-ups and a gridlocked traffic circle at rush-hour full of both local and regional traffic, the area has long awaited a fix.

The circle is a stone's throw from the ever-expanding University of Massachusetts Boston’s campus, a recently approved 278-unit residential development, and a proposed 184-unit residential development. So the traffic and congestion are only expected to worsen.

“I think it’s already at a choking point,” said Dorchester City Councilor Frank Baker. “But it’s been like that for years.”

The Columbia Point Master Plan and proposed redesign of Morrissey Boulevard have addressed some of the issues facing the two-lane traffic circle controlled by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, but funds, uncertainty, and commitment have stalled implementation.

“We certainly recognize the problem, but there is a limited amount of what we can do,” said SJ Port, spokesperson for DCR. “A big part of this is funding.”

Proposals in the Columbia Point Master Plan, developed in 2011, called for an at-grade by-pass for Old Colony Avenue and new street connections south of the traffic circle, with the intention of separating local and through traffic.

“The idea in the Master Plan was when developers are making room for new developments a new system of streets would be created to move traffic away from the circle,” said Tad Read, the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s lead planner for the development of the Master Plan.

The area defined as Columbia Point is made up of “super blocks” with only long main streets dividing them. The plan calls for the breaking up of the blocks with side streets to aid in the creation of a neighborhood.

“The Master Plan sets the blue print for the future, but the city can’t dictate what can be built,” Read said.

While the city can't control private property, it does have some tools, including the Article 80 process, to hold developers feet to the fire and begin the process of creating a new neighborhood and street connections.

“Right now, the current market isn’t supportive of this kind of development, but we are at least making sure the main streets the Master Plan envisioned for the site can happen long-term,” said Read, highlighting Synergy's 278-unit development and the new road being built as part of the project.

At the moment, however, there are no funds for additional street projects or any fix for the traffic circle.

“There’s been a lot of discussion around it, but the issue is going to come down to cost,” said Representative Martin Walsh of Dorchester, who has worked for years around issues facing the connecting Morrissey Boulevard.

Proposals in the past to reconstruct Morrissey have included some work on the circle’s connecting bridges, but haven’t addressed the existing circle or new connections proposed in the Master Plan.

“The area has been a concern for a while and with the private development and the UMass Boston expansion on the horizon it’s only going to draw more people to the area,” said state Representative Nick Collins of South Boston.

ollins said he is pushing to include money in the upcoming Transit Bond Bill to conduct a study of the circle to see how to better address its issues, but added that improvements just can’t fall on the state.

“We also need to look at private/public partnerships [for funding],” said Collins. “We need to look at the anticipated needs and how we are going to make the area more accessible for commuters and residents.”

Although a fix isn't expected anytime soon, Baker said a push for some community benefits, such as a pedestrian connection from Sydney Street, an adherence to the Master Plan is needed.

“My concern is if the area is developed piece by piece we’ll lose the opportunity,” he said. “We should be asking developers to be doing something.”

Email Patrick D. Rosso, Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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