The Baker administration has committed to building a 785-foot-long pedestrian-and-bike bridge across the Mystic River, connecting the Assembly MBTA station in Somerville and the Encore casino property in Everett.
And state officials say they’ll do it even if they don’t win federal funding to help cover the nearly $49 million price tag.
Governor Charlie Baker on Friday gathered with aides as well as Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria and Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone at the casino site to announce the state’s commitment to the project. It would dramatically cut travel time for pedestrians between the casino and the Orange Line, fill in an important missing piece of a bike path route that stretches to the city of Lynn known as the Northern Strand trail, and make it more attractive to develop land around the casino in Everett.
One big question remains: how to pay for it.
The administration announced a timeline for construction — it could begin in 2024, or sooner, depending on how permitting goes — but not a specific funding source. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has pledged $650,000 to finish the design and permitting. To help finance construction, the administration in July asked the US Department of Transportation for $25 million through what’s known as the RAISE grant program. State officials have not heard back on the status of that request. The Mystic River project, according to the grant application, would include $37 million for the bridge itself and $12 million for a new entrance to the Assembly T station that would allow access across the tracks to the new bridge and the Draw Seven Park along the river in Somerville.
“We’re going to chase a number of competitive grants [offered by the federal government],” Baker said. “The bottom line is, whatever we don’t get from them, we’re going to fund.”
After it’s done, the bridge will be maintained by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. State officials said they estimate as many as 2,300 pedestrians and more than 350 bicyclists will use the bridge — which will feature a 12-foot-wide deck, lighting, and benches — on a daily basis.
This project has been talked about for years, and state officials started designing it in 2017. DeMaria had been worried that it would be pushed down the list of state transportation priorities, and regularly hounded officials in the administration about it. The mayor is eager to bring rail service to his city, which, despite being bisected by tracks, does not have its own train station. And he wants to turn land across the street from the casino into a regional destination with hotels, restaurants, and sports/entertainment venues. He recently received state approval to acquire some of that land, currently owned by power plant operator Exelon, by eminent domain if necessary to fulfill that vision.
On Friday, DeMaria said he was overjoyed “to finally get access to a T station that we so rightly deserve.”
Officials in Everett and at casino owner Wynn Resorts had considered the idea of an aerial tramway to serve the casino in early 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but those plans have been shelved.
Amber Christoffersen, greenways director for the Mystic River Watershed Association, said she’s relieved that the gondola idea was dropped, and also that the Baker administration has fully committed to the bridge. It will fit nicely with already-underway work to connect the Northern Strand path to the Mystic River and the Encore property, she said, and with planning in Boston to make nearby Rutherford Avenue more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.
“This is the linchpin in those huge multimodal investments,” Christoffersen said. “This is something our organization has been asking for for decades. It’s a longstanding idea that we’re excited about.”