Charles Conservancy Advocates for Bridge Underpasses

The Charles River Conservancy has initiated a movement to petition the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to build underpasses for pedestrians and cyclists beneath the Anderson Memorial, Western Ave., and River St. bridges along the Charles River.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create seven miles straight of uninterrupted path,” said Renata von Tscharner, the president and founder of the Charles River Conservancy.

Members of the Conservancy, which works to promote greater accessibility and use of the river, said these underpasses would increase safety, promote a shift towards healthier transportation, and encourage recreation and tourism.

Anderson Memorial Bridge
A rendering of the proposed Anderson Bridge underpass.

The Conservancy hopes to acquire funding for the project from Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Accelerated Bridge Program, a $3 billion initiative to rebuild 200 Massachusetts bridges over the course of eight years.


ABP funding usually goes towards general bridge renovations that usually do not include underpasses, though. A renovation of this nature funded by the program has already commenced on the Anderson Bridge.

Activists said they now hope that MassDOT will allocate additional funds to construct an Anderson Bridge underpass, especially since the department announced last week that it would defer construction on the River St. and Western Ave. bridges until 2018 or 2019.

“The urgency now is to get underpasses incorporated into Anderson Bridge,“ von Tscharner said.

According to members of the Conservancy, it would be more cost-effective to begin construction on the underpasses now, since the Anderson Bridge is currently under construction. The Conservancy conducted a study that estimated that constructing all three underpasses would cost $3 million if MassDOT were to begin construction now. According to the study, the same project would cost $6 million if built later.

“Two principal arguments from MassDOT resisting the underpasses have been that it would take too long and that there are so many other demands under the ABP,” said Cambridge resident John G. Wofford ’57.

A campaign has formed to support the movement, drawing support from local public organizations, the Cambridge City Council, and elected officials, including Congresswoman Katherine M. Clark.

Von Tscharner noted that the issue should concern all Cambridge residents—particularly Harvard students.

“Harvard students, as the main users of the river, have been lured here with beautiful pictures of the Charles, but it’s actually very dangerous to cross,” von Tscharner said. “They can’t fully enjoy it.”

The Conservancy's urging aside, MassDOT spokesman Michael Verseckes said that the underpasses are simply not possible at present. The department is responsible for maintaining about 5,100 bridges across Boston, he said, and cannot provide further funding for renovating the 200 bridges included in the ABP at this time—let alone construct additional underpasses.

According to Verseckes, MassDOT has still made efforts to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists and has not ruled out the underpasses completely.