By Seth Daniel
There are only a few things that travel well on Beacham Street in the Produce Center, and none of them have wheels or feet.
But the City of Chelsea – using a planning grant gained from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) – is looking to work with businesses and residents to learn about the corridor and completely redesign it to make it accessible to everything from bicycles to pedestrians to semi-trucks.
The scope of the study begins at the McArdle Bridge and travels all the way up Williams Street and into the Produce Center on Beacham Street, ending at the Everett City Line. Everett is also looking at connecting with Chelsea on a similar re-design to create a continuous corridor across City lines.
“I’d say it’s an absolutely critical corridor for our economy and our transportation infrastructure,” said Alex Train, a planner for the City. There are also serious environmental issues back there with a high flood risk, which we also have to address. When you have that combination of factors coming together, it’s a tough issue to address. It’s a major East-West connector. If you solve this corridor’s issues, you solve a lot of access issues for the community…This isn’t something we can do overnight, but it’s important we start planning now. We need to understand deeply the business operations before we advance any designs to accommodate everyone.”
He added that one concern by the truck traffic, which supports the region’s critical food supply chain, is none of them can use the Tobin Bridge because of weight restrictions. That means they have to use Beacham to get in and out of the Produce Center.
The idea behind the renovation of Beacham Street is that the City believes it can accommodate the critical food transport industry – as well as other industrial uses – and also make the roadway useful to bicyclists, pedestrians and vehicles.
Train pointed out that the corridor helps connect Chelsea, East Boston and Revere residents to critical job centers at the upcoming Everett casino, the Somerville Assembly Row and the high-tech Kendall Square companies. With a clear and easy way to get to those areas, new job opportunities can open up for this area.
Many might laugh at the thought of a bicyclist commuting through the Produce Center, but it’s not a laughable proposition for Asad Rahman of Broadway.
He commutes to his job on Beacham Street nearly every work day, and though he has been hit once, he said there is no better way to get to the Boston/Cambridge/Somerville area.
He added that he thinks once the casino opens in Everett, it will be that much more critical.
“There is definitely a need to fix this corridor,” he said. “It’s heavily used. I actually see bicyclists on the road about every single day. I’ve seen pedestrians walking to work back there too. The numbers are growing. With more thing popping up in Everett like the casino, it’s going to be the only way for people looking to get there from Chelsea or East Boston. I think it is and can be a major artery for anyone trying to get outside of Chelsea.”
He said he is very interested in the planning process and attended a meeting on Monday night at City Hall to see the first versions of the plans.
“It’s extremely important to get this right before the casino gets built,” he said. “This isn’t just a road for big trucks and cars. It’s used by people biking and walking all the time.”
Train said they are showing the public several alternative designs for the road, and so far one clear design is favored, and it is one that keeps the road the same, but defines it with curbing and sidewalks. The change would come in a new shared-use path separated from the road by trees. It would be accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists.
As the planning study continues, Train said they are lining up grant applications for federal and state funding for the project. The hope is to have a preferred plan in place by the time the funding becomes available. The design work is being conducted by the firm Stantec.
He said they estimate the cost – which includes fortifying the flooding risks for the Produce Center – at $8-$10 million.
More public meetings are expected in the near future.