What’s Walsh’s real end game?

What’s Walsh’s real end game?

New Long Island Bridge to treatment campus is unlikely Boston's goal

MARTY WALSH DID NOT BECOME the mayor of the City of Boston by being a stupid man.

When anyone – anyone – looks at the cost-benefit analysis of rebuilding the Long Island Bridge instead of improving ferry service to that island, it is quickly obvious that it is a terrible investment, a terrible deal for taxpayers, and a needless delay in delivering addiction recovery support services the region needs today and every day going forward, not just in the year 2021.

So what is Mayor Walsh’s real end game?

Rebuilding the bridge, which Boston cared so deeply about that it was allowed to fall into disrepair and condemnation in 2014, will cost about $100 million to $150 million. [The city of Boston estimates the cost at $92 million, all paid by the city with no state or federal contribution.] When the old bridge was closed, so were the homeless and substance abuse facilities on the island.

The idea of opening a “recovery campus” on the island is laudable. Few municipalities have been as progressive and dedicated to recovery support as the City of Quincy – from homeless shelter beds to sober houses and police policies that have been a national model.

But opening a recovery campus does not require a bridge. It is, instead, hindered and delayed by spending exorbitant sums of money to rebuild the bridge instead of immediately using the existing pier and ferry service that already serve nearby Camp Harborview at the end of the island.

Why not contract ferry service, reopen the detox facilities in a month, and start rebuilding the second pier closer to the hospital – at the cost of a few million dollars – if the existing pier is strained by the increased traffic?

The Boston Public Health hospital opened there in the 1880s and was served exclusively by ferry for more than 60 years. The bridge was not built to improve access to the hospital, as that was not necessary; it was built as part of the federal government’s cold war Project Nike missile program.

The mayor’s human services chief was recently quoted in CommonWealth magazine saying that the region’s weather makes ferry service to the island insufficient and unsafe in case of medical or other emergencies. The ferry technology of the 1930s and 1940s kept the Public Health Hospital open year round; one might be forgiven for doubts that our maritime technology has regressed so remarkably.

If it is true that Jamaica Plain’s Lemuel Shattuck Hospital, which already houses substance abuse services, is in the process of closing, there should be discussion about using those newly available facilities for a recovery campus. Such a campus could be ready two or three years before Long Island would be up and running at a fraction of the overall cost, and a few minutes’ ambulance ride from several world-class hospitals in case of medical emergencies.

So what, again, is Mayor Walsh’s true objective? The most convincing theory I have heard is that while recovery facilities can and should be adequately serviced by ferry, that would not open the island to upscale investment and development. A bridge would. The same wealthy real estate developers who would make a killing creating a new Seaport District or Marina Bay on Long Island would doubtless contribute, through benevolence or negotiation, to the Boston tax base or worthy causes in Boston. Playgrounds. Afterschool programs. Arts. Perhaps Camp Harborview.

But if you take a clear-eyed look at who would bear the cost and who would get the benefit, it is clear that Quincy residents would lose. The total number of worthy Quincy children who were welcomed at Camp Harborview while the island was accessed through the Squantum section of the city of Quincy?

Zero.

That is consistent with Boston’s treatment of its “neighbor” to the south across decades.

The cost is obvious. People are quick to dismiss neighbor concerns as NIMBYism, but the exorbitant profits such a plan would bring to Boston developers would, in some part, come out of the property values of Quincy residents. The roads between Boston and the planned bridge location are often narrow, winding, and already too close to people’s homes. They cannot be widened without causing substantial loss in value to those homeowners, and they cannot handle a tripling of traffic in their current state.

Some number of the dollars those developers would pocket in profit, or share with Boston or Boston entities, would be offset by the decreased property values of the residents of Quincy in a reverse-Robin-Hood scenario.

I represented the people of the city of Quincy for more than 30 years in the state Legislature. We are a city of people who work hard for what we have and aren’t interested in being taken advantage of by anyone.

If the real plan is to enrich a small number of already wealthy developers, bask in the reflected glow, and create a monument to the Walsh years – like Federal Hill in Providence is associated with Buddy Cianci, or the Seaport is associated with Thomas Menino – then say it. Clearly. Aloud. And then we can watch the real proposals rise or fall on their merits.

Meet the Author
Or, start calling regional ferry operators and re-open those facilities in the weeks ahead.

Michael W. Morrissey is the district attorney for Norfolk County. A resident of Quincy’s Squantum neighborhood, he represented the city in both the House and the Senate.