The City's ever-resilient fight against the proposed Inner Belt highway has bounced all the way from Cambridge to Washington and back during the past few months. The Belt, which only last spring seemed a sure thing, has now been put on the shelf again.
The twenty-year struggle against the eight-lane highway appeared lost last May, after the Massachusetts Department of Public Works announced its final choice of a route for the Cambridge link of the Belt--Brookline-Elm. Residents of the City had opposed any Belt route through Cambridge, but this route--which would pass near Central Square and displace some 1500 families--had always aroused the most anger.
Few observers then held out much hope for the Belt foes, since the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads usually approves such state recommendations automatically. The opponents of the Belt, however, vowed to carry the fight to Washington in an effort to get the BPR to over-rule the state's decision. Under the motto "Cam-is NOT a highway," over 100 of them journeyed to Washington in late May to meet with Federal Roads Commissioner Lowell K. Bridwell, Senators Kennedy and Brooke, and their representative, Thomas P. O'Neill (D. Gamb.). They were received in a friendly, but non-committal way.
Only last month were their efforts rewarded. In a closed-door meeting with City officials, Bridwell agreed to postpone any immediate decision on the Belt in order to give the City time to "offset the mountain of evidence" showing a need for the road. He agreed to finance--at least in part--a re-study of the Belt by independent consultants. A City-appointed overseeing committee would supervise the study.
Cambridge Mayor Daniel J. Hayes Jr. then named two of Harvard's top urban experts--Daniel P. Moynihan, director of the Joint Center for Urban Studies and William W. Nash '50, associate professor of City Planning--to head the overseeing committee. Other Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors are now being recruited by the City to fill the committee's roster.
On the face of it, the BPR's decision to allow the new study was highly unusual. The Bureau has been well aware of the Belt plan ever since it was first proposed in 1948. The road had been frequently reviewed at the state level, until foe and friend alike lost count of the number of studies. The DPW itself, following an election-time request of Governor John A. Volpe, re-studied the Belt prior to its decision last May.
Moynihan said that the BPR's decision was due to the fact that "There's a new crew of highway people in Washington; they want to apply present-day standards, not those of 1948, to the Inner Belt." He felt that federal highway planners now want to put more emphasis on the social effects of highways on the cities through which they pass. Nash agreed with that analysis and added that many of the assumptions backing the Inner Belt are now outmoded. In 1948, it was supposed that Boston would grow--both in population and employment--at a faster rate than it actually has. The Massachusetts Turnpike extension into Boston has already taken some of the pressure off downtown Boston's crowded Central Artery--a function which is the Inner Belt's raison d'etre.
City officials, on the other hand, feel that it was their continuing opposition to the Belt which led Bridwell to authorize the new study. Mayor Hayes commented that "They (the BPR) just don't like to make decisions in the face of such opposition from civil, political, and religious leaders." He said that Rep. O'Neill--a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee--had constantly prodded the BPR during the summer to allow a re-study of the Belt.
Early this month, His Eminence Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, added his influential voice to the chorus of opposition. The Cardinal said he was disturbed by "the wanton demolition of homes and jobs to make way for highways and high-rise apartment houses," adding that "The whole problem is getting worse, not better." He noted that, "Highways have forced thousands to moved from the only homes they ever knew. These families were driven from the city to the suburbs where, in recent years, we have had to build 85 new parishes."
Though Cushing had previously remained mute on the Inner Belt, he said he had, in Nov., 1964, ordered the Rev. Paul J. McManus, whose church was located near the Belt's path, to organize opposition against the highway. (McManus led the Belt foes to Washington last May.)
However, even if the planners' arguments and local political pressure created the drive for the review, they might not have overcome the bureaucratic impetus created by the DPW's decision of last May without outside help.
The most important factor which led to the shelving of the Belt was probably simply the BPR's money problems. The Interstate Highway System, of which the Belt is a part, was scheduled to be completed by 1973, but rising construction costs have forced the government to extend the completion date by at least two years.
The federal government's current "war economy" drive has added to the impetus to cut down highway spending. Secretary of Transportation Alan S. Boyd recently sent telegrams to the 50 state governors, asking them for their reactions to a possible 50 per cent cutback in highway spending as an anti-inflation measure.