Alternate Highway Proposal Unveiled

Responding to months of vociferous opposition from Cambridge residents, state transportation officials held an open house last night to unveil an alternative plan to the proposed highway interchange, Scheme Z.

Equipped with models, slides and posters, Assistant Secretary of Transportation Stan Durlacher explained the new plan, called 8.1D, to a crowd of about 60 stalwart Scheme Z opponents at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.

Durlacher said 8.1D was the product of months of debate by the Bridge Design Review Committee (BDRC), a group of 42 environmental, business and community leaders from Cambridge and Charlestown.

According to Durlacher, the BDRC was created to address the concerns of Cambridge and Charlestown citizens regarding Scheme Z, a proposed 11-story, 16-lane, four-bridge interchange over the Charles River on the east side of Cambridge.

The 8.1D plan would remove extraneous viaducts from the interchange, reduce the number of bridges to one, and cause "a dramatic increase in green space" in contrast to Scheme Z, Durlacher said.

He added that 8.1D would reduce traffic "by 38 million miles per year for the entire area compared to Scheme Z."


In response to a question as to whether "Scheme Z is dead," Durlacher reminded the audience that 8.1D is still only a "suggested alternative to Scheme Z."

"It will take about four to six months to file a change of project notice," he said. "I expect at least one further revision to 8.1D before a final plan is adopted."

Cambridge and Charlestown residents have voiced their opposition to Scheme Z throughout the past year, in part by filing multiple lawsuits against the state...

Most of the suits claimed the plan violated federal pollution statutes, and would destroy the neighborhood around the proposed construction site.

Liz Epstein, director of the Cambridge Conservative Commission and a representative of the Conservation Law Foundation, which has filed a suit against Scheme Z, expressed the general attitude of the audience towards Scheme Z.

"The opposition to it was really broad based," she said. "It was an environmental nightmare, an aesthetic nightmare, and was unfair to Cambridge."

But Epstein said she was pleased with the changes that 8.1D would institute.

"We've agreed to settle [our law-suit], contingent on the adoption of this plan, among other things," she said.

"I believe the City of Cambridge is interested in settling its suit as well," she added.

Not everyone at the meeting was satisfied by the plan, however. John Lewis, co-chair of the New England chapter of the Sierra Club, said his group has no plans to settle its lawsuit against the state any time soon.

"We continue thinking about it in terms of air quality," said Lewis. "It will eventually increase pollution.