State calls off sale of East Boston easement rights

Bows to pressure from transportation advocates calling for comprehensive planning process

STATE TRANSPORTATION OFFICIALS said on Monday they are canceling the planned sale of rights to a  stretch of land in East Boston and instead committing to a study of the area to see if the parcel could better be used to alleviate congestion on busy Route 1A.

Joseph Aiello, chairman of the MBTA’’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, said at the start of the group’s meeting on Monday that an agenda item to hold a discussion regarding the railroad right-of-way was being withdrawn and the invitation for bids was being canceled.

The proposed sale of easement rights to the narrow strip of land running between Route 1A and the Chelsea Creek drew sharp criticism last week, with two former state transportation secretaries, Jim Aloisi and Fred Salvucci, ripping the move as a “imprudent and improper” use of state land. Joining their call to cancel the proposed sale were the Conservation Law Foundation, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, City Councilor Lydia Edwards, and the two state legislators representing the neighborhood, Sen. Joseph Boncore of WInthrop and Rep. Adrian Madaro of East Boston.

The state Department of Transportation and MBTA, which each own a section of the long dormant right-of-way, opened up bidding on use of the land last month following inquiries from Cargo Ventures, an industrial use and office company that owns 14 acres of property alongside the parcel. The company said it was interested in building a roadway on the land that would allow trucks to enter and leave its properties while avoiding often traffic-choked Route 1A, also known as McClellan Highway. 

Aloisi and Salvucci said the state should carry out a comprehensive transportation study that looks at possible uses for the right-of-way, including as a dedicated bus lane or as route limited to high-occupancy vehicles. They said it made no sense to sell off rights to the land to a private firm at a time of growing concern over traffic congestion throughout Greater Boston. 

“We made our case and the secretary and the chairman of the board responded, and we’re grateful,” said Aloisi, referring to Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and Aiello. “It’s a really good day for sustainable mobility in Greater Boston.”

State officials had insisted that the terms set forth for bidding on the easement preserved the state’s right to also use the parcel for public transportation or a HOV lane, but Aloisi said it was folly to think such uses would be easily accommodated once rights to the land were sold to a private entity.

“That’s completely wrongheaded,” Aloisi said last week, calling it “the biggest load of bull-bleep that you could possibly get from a state official.”

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Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

The CEO of Cargo Ventures, Jacob Citrin, who planned on submitting a bid for the easement, could not be reached immediately for comment.

In announcing that the bidding process was being terminated, Aiello said the state transportation department would lead a “corridor study to look at all of the elements up and down the McClellan Highway area.” He said more information about the study would be presented at a later meeting of the control board.