Shuffle proposed for 4 of Boston’s parkways

Oversight would shift for Storrow Drive, Soldiers Field Road

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION wants to transfer four major parkways currently under the control of the Department of Conservation and Recreation over to the Department of Transportation.

In an outside section of Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget proposal for fiscal 2021, Storrow Drive, Soldiers Field Road, Morrissey Boulevard, and Day Boulevard would be transferred to the Department of Transportation. Other parkways, including Memorial Drive, the Fenway, the Jamaicaway, Fresh Pond Parkway, Quincy Shore Drive, and the Lynnway, would remain under the control of the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“With the changing dynamics of the region, including an increase in motor vehicles and multimodal options, MassDOT is better suited to guide these roadways for future use,” said spokeswoman Jacqueline Goddard in a statement.

Olivia Dorrance, a spokeswoman for DCR, said the roadway transfer “will aid in alleviating traffic congestion, provide outdoor recreational opportunities, and create a safer travel experience for all.”

Transportation advocates acknowledged DCR needs to do a better job managing the parkways, but they seemed wary of turning them over to the state highway department at MassDOT.

“The parkways are not supposed to be just highways, but also provide access to the park environment,” said Fred Salvucci, a former secretary of transportation who now teaches at MIT. “DCR is not currently doing it very well, but MassDOT getting jurisdiction would likely make it less considerate of park functions.”

Emily Norton, executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association, said DCR should be doing a lot more with the parkways, possibly even converting them back to parkland to increase Boston’s climate resilience.

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“CRWA has long opposed any moves to convert parkways to highways. What would follow, allowing trucks on them? Parkways are supposed to be slower, scenic drives that connect people to our urban parks. If we allow MassDOT to take them over, we are in essence giving up on that vision,” said Norton in a statement.

Former transportation secretary James Aloisi said the transfer of parkways from DCR to MassDOT was considered when he was in state government 10 years ago.  “We decided against it then because the highway department was concerned that the DCR roadways were in such poor repair and condition that it would be too costly to take on, and there was concern raised by others that the highway department culture is not suited to maintaining parkways,” he said.  “We had bigger fish to fry.”