Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced on Oct. 22 that the state will soon move forward with plans to build a pedestrian bridge connecting Somerville with the Encore Boston Harbor Casino in Everett. After nearly 20 years of initial planning, construction is set to begin no later than 2024.
The bridge will cross the Mystic River between the cities of Everett and Somerville and will roughly connect Somerville’s Assembly Square neighborhood with Everett’s Encore casino.
Brad Rawson, director of the Mobility Division in the Somerville Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development, explained that the new bridge will not only benefit those working in the two cities, but will also benefit pedestrians and tourists in the area. Furthermore, Rawson described the bridge as a link for connecting various trails and avenues for safe, civilian use.
Somerville mayor-elect Katjana Ballantyne neglected to comment on the governor’s October announcement.
Rawson explained that the bridge will aid in economic advancement for marginalized communities.
“The bridge … is an essential part of a strategy to make sure that people have pathways to economic advancement,” Rawson said.
The new bridge aims to create more job opportunities for the cities’ residents of color and better job advancement opportunities for both white-collar and blue-collar workforces.
Jay Monty, who earned a master’s degree in urban and environmental policy and planning from Tufts in 2014, serves as Everett’s director of transportation. He says the bridge is set to allow for more transportation options for pedestrians and cyclists, and will allow for easier passage across the Mystic River.
Monty believes that the pedestrian bridge will help to solidify and strengthen the existing network of walking and biking paths in the Mystic Valley region of Massachusetts.
Rawson expressed enthusiasm for Somerville’s dedication to promoting a deeper connection to nature and decreasing carbon emissions.
“The City of Somerville has made a commitment in our climate plan to decarbonize transportation [and] straight up eliminate all carbon emissions from the transportation sector by 2040,” Rawson said.
Rawson explained that the new bridge is an important step for the city to move toward this goal of a greener Somerville.
“This bridge facility will be a transformative investment that really improves our residents’ connections to the incredible network of open spaces and environmental opportunities on the Mystic River,” Rawson said.
Rawson also described the bridge as a tool to improve bus, rail, walking and biking connections in the area. Additionally, Monty mentioned how plans for the pedestrian bridge predate the existence of the Everett Casino.
According to the directors, the bridge reflects larger trends toward walkability and more environmentally conscious infrastructure.
“It’s indicative of a larger regional effort to do the same kind of work down in the Neponset River Watershed.” Rawson said.
One of the biggest benefits of the bridge is said to be the direct connection it creates over the Mystic River for residents of the surrounding cities.
“If you think about how to get across the river, you can’t go on the Blue Line … [and] it’s not a very safe cycling route,” Monty said.
The bridge, much like the East Coast Greenway and the Mystic River Greenway Network, would give access to development and economic opportunities in Cambridge, according to Monty.
However, Rawson revealed that many factors must be taken into account to ensure the success of such a large project, such as workforce development, cultural facilities, affordable housing and equitable access to open space.
“If the communities working on this infrastructure fail to center those larger questions of sustainability, resilience and equity, there can be downsides,” Rawson said.
Monty also explained that, like many other projects, the cost has been a large factor. Due to the lack of government prioritization of funds for this project, construction had been pushed back many years.
“It was hard to really make the case that the bridge was … functional, but now … you can make that case for 40 million dollars,” Monty said.
Both directors agreed that Everett and Somerville’s leaders now feel that the bridge is essential in providing transportation safely and equitably to pedestrians.
“We’re very enthusiastic and excited as a community about reclaiming our waterfront,” Rawson said. “Somerville is not Cambridge, Riverside, and we’re not Boston’s Back Bay… But we do have a waterfront and it’s on the Mystic River, and we want to open this waterfront up to public access.”