N. Cambridge Seething Over Plan For Route 2 Highway Expansion

In the last week and a half, North Cambridge planners, activists, businessmen and officials have publicly vented anger and frustration over State Transportation Secretary Frederick P. Salvucci's proposal to expand Route 2 near the Alewife 'T' stop.

They say the proposal, released in early February, ignores local planners' advice on ways to improve the highways while preserving nearby neighborhoods.

In order to relieve congestion at the junction of Routes 2 and 16, the project would widen Route 2 and connect it with the Fresh Pond Parkway by a new road.

Federal law requires the State Transportation Authority to consult community advisory groups as it plans projects such as this one. Salvucci complied by creating the Alewife Transportation Advisory Committee (ATAC), a group of local and regional planners from the three towns to be affected--Cambridge, Arlington and Belmont.

But ATAC members say Salvucci did not consider their proposals seriously, preferring to make larger and more disruptive changes in the roads.


'Rug Pulled Out'

"The rug has been pulled out from under us just to fill a federal requirement," said Carolyn Mieth, a member of ATAC and the Cambridge Planning Board.

According to State Transportation Authority planner Frank Bracagila, Salvucci's plan would relieve jams on Routes 2 and 16 by "getting local traffic onto the regional highway network." To do this, he said the plan would elevate Route 2, add new lanes and ramps to the existing highway and build access roads to carry Route 16 traffic away from the Route 2 rotary.

Reacting to Salvucci's unexpected proposal, North Cambridge activists recently held a community meeting entitled, "North Cambridge Neighborhood Alert." At that meeting, and at a City Council hearing a few days later, many neighborhood residents fiercely criticized both the impact and the planning process of the Secretary's proposal.

`New Impacts'

The depth of neighborhood opposition to Salvucci's plan is due to what Mieth calls its "completely new impacts," resulting from the elevated roadwork, the increased number of major highway lanes and the taking of open space involved.

"That part of the Cambridge community will be split in two by the elevated highway," said Ed Cyr, a resident who organized the North Cambridge Neighborhood Alert meeting.

City Councillor Sheila T. Russell said, "Cambridge is going to bear the brunt of the problems with this plan. We should not, because we have already suffered through the 'T' development at Alewife."

At last week's Council hearing, Russell won support from other councillors in an attempt to make sure that Salvucci and others on the state level do not ignore neighborhood input."

The Council voted last week to ask for a new environmental impact study from Salvucci that would reflect the true size of the project as he plans it. The body's non-binding order also asked the secretary to testify to the City Council on the project this April 4 and asked the city's state representatives and senators to attend the hearing.

Salvucci's plan would also turn part of Route 2 into an eight-lane highway. Cyr called this "putting high-speed lanes back into the city, something that runs contrary to Boston's rule of thumb." He said Boston follows a general policy of keeping highways on its periphery.

Mieth questioned the safety of a system which would merge eight lanes into two lanes on a relatively short stretch of highway. "It will create more problems than it solves," the planner added.

Salvucci aide Michael Meyer said federal law forced the Transportation Department to consult a group like ATAC in order to receive federal approval for its project. But, said Meyer, "the Advisory Committee is really just one voice in many."

Six months ago, when ATAC offered the state a choice of proposals to reduce the highway's impact on neighborhoods, Mieth said Salvucci rejected the committee's first choice of the half-dozen proposals.

Another issue surrounding Salvucci's project is the likelihood that it would cover acres of park and open space. Meyer said, "Secretary Salvucci's major concern has been environmental impact." But the plan would destroy much of the Jerry's Pond area in Cambridge, scrapping open space which the city required the W.R. Grace development to provide several years ago, and leaving out a landscaping plan that ATAC included in its proposals.

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