State Will Unveil Scheme Z Successor

Cambridge Journal

"It's big, it's ugly and it's coming your way."

Saying those words two years ago, Councillor Edward N. Cyr captured the essence of Scheme Z, a proposed 11-story 16-lane interchange that was to be built in East Cambridge.

Cyr may or may not have been right. It might not be so ugly.

By next month, the state will unveil a new, alternative project that is "better from a Cambridge perspective," said Elizabeth Epstein, chair of Cambridge's Conservation Commission.

The new plan has 30 percent fewer loop ramps, lower interchanges and narrower bridge crossings than the original plan, according to Epstein, who is also a representative on the state's Bridge Design Review Committee.


But the price tag of the new plan is millions larger, hiking the total cost up to nearly $630 million. And officials estimate it will be nearly 10 years until the project is completed.

"All the alternatives the [bridge] committee came up with were infinitely better than Scheme Z," said Debra A. McManus, cochair of the Cambridge Citizens for Liable Neighborhoods.

The Bridge Design Committee was formed by outgoing Secretary of Environmental Affairs John P. DeVillars in January 1991 to make Scheme Z more aesthetically pleasing to Cambridge residents.

The committee quickly went beyond its initial mandate and voted to replace Scheme Z with another proposal to link Interstate 93 and the Central Artery.

Concerns about Scheme Z surfaced in 1990 when citizens and local activists protested the state's plans to go ahead with the $400 million project, saying that the proposed 11-story, 16-lane interchange would be an eyesore and an environmental disaster.

Scheme Z was designed as part of the plan to depress the elevated Central Artery underground. Under Scheme Z, four bridges over the Charles River would connect the state's Central Artery with the interstate highway system.

But Cantabridgians complained that the artery was being depressed at the cost of elevating a monstrosity in Cambridge.


Prompted by the grassroots opposition, the Cambridge City Council then brought a lawsuit against the state to try and block the project's construction.

"The state wanted to do it cheap and dirty and they thought they could get away with it," said Debra M. McManus, co-chair of Cambridge Citizens For Livable Neighborhoods.

In effect, the whole history of Scheme Z was a bureaucratic and legal nightmare, with citizens, Cambridge and the state of Massachusetts embroiled in and seemingly endless quest to find common ground.

Although the Bridge Design Committee's recommendation may turn out to be much more palatable, the city is not yet ready to drop its litigation against the state.

Says Cyr: "East Cambridge's interests are protected."