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City to Probe Highway Plans

Alewife Proposal Also Faces Citizens, MDC Opposition


Responding to complaints by North Cambridge residents and the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), the City Council on Monday approved a resolution calling on City Manager Robert W. Healy to "develop a harmonized city position" on plans for a highway in Alewife.

The proposal by the state Department of Public Works (DPW) for the Preferred Alternative Alewife Highway Plan would establish a four-lane elevated parkway, two multi-lane frontage roads, and numerous traffic lights near the intersection of Route 2 and Route 16 to "improve access to the Alewife 'T'-station and to improve access to development in the Alewife area," said District 4 Traffic Engineer Constance J. Raphael.

Bottleneck Business

But opponents charge that the $45 million highway would not solve bottlenecks, but only increase traffic and pollution in the area.

"We are very concerned that we not have a super-highway bordering and separating North Cambridge," said Mayor Alice K. Wolf in an interview.

Opponents to the plan brought their concern to the attention of the City Council because they believed the DPW was not attentive to their concerns.

"Neighborhoods are at an extreme disadvantage at playing ball with these guys," said Daniel E. Geer, co-chair of the Cambridge Citizens for Liveable Neighborhoods, an area activist group.

Geer added that once the final Environmental Impact Report on the project is issued later this month, residents will have only about three weeks to comment on its conclusions, giving them little time to resist the plan.

'Embarrassing Thing'

Carolyn Meith, the Alewife Transportation Advisory Committee's Cambridge legislative representative, said the questions whether community resistance will have any effect at all.

"I heard that the money's been set aside at the federal level for this project, and to send it back would be an embarrassing thing. Something has to be built at Alewife," Meith said.

But Wolf said conservation is also a key concern. "Our conservation commission feels that the impact on the water tables and the adjacent wetlands would be detrimental. We are not satisfied yet," the mayor said.

In a letter to the DPW, Julia O'Brien, director of planning for the MDC, expressed concern "that the adverse impacts of the Preferred Alternative as presented to date are excessive and that no open space mitigation plan has been advanced."

Meith said the new lanes will surround several of the nearby ponds "making them totally useless to anyone" and lead to an increase in "the accumulation of oil and gas in Alewife Brook" because of highway run-off. She said this new pollution follows $140,000 from the MDC to clean up Alewife Brook.

Opponents also said they doubt whether the highway project will actually improve traffic flow. O'Brien's letter states, "The MDC believes that the Preferred Alternative will do little to increase existing highway efficiency."

"At this time of fiscal troubles, this does little more than move a bottleneck problem down a few hundred yards," Geer said.

And Meith said, "The larger the system means the more traffic will be attracted to it."

Opponents also said increasing accessibility to the Alewife station might not encourage the use of public transit. "I understand that the access to the 'T' is not a benefit to any adjacent neighborhoods. Instead it is for suburban commuters," said Geer.

Meith said more should be done to ensure that suburbanites will drive to the Alewife station and then use public transportation, saying the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which operates the station, should offering parking incentives to those who car-pool.

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