The city of Boston has been engaged in a years-long fight to reconstruct the Long Island bridge and bring a 35-acre addiction recovery campus back to the island, which is located in Boston Harbor. After a victory earlier this week, the city just got one step closer to starting construction on the project.
The city’s plans, which would cost over $100 million and, critics say, alter neighborhoods in nearby Quincy, are on the path forward after city officials were granted a Chapter 91 license, they announced on Wednesday.
The license means the project is onto its next steps, which include a federal consistency review by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and a bridge permit from the Coast Guard.
The bridge — which would replace one demolished in 2015 because of structural concerns — would connect Long Island with Moon Island, which is owned by Boston but falls within the municipal boundaries of Quincy at its northern tip.
The history of the Long Island bridge, and the fight to reconstruct an addiction treatment campus on the island, is full of complicated twists and turns. Between quests for permits and battles with the city of Quincy over the bridge, here is a timeline of events, broken down:
1882: The city of Boston secured Long Island for institutional care facilities, including an almshouse. It later became a home for unwed mothers, a chronic disease hospital, a nursing school, and an institutional farm. To get to the island, visitors had to take ferries and boats.
Aug. 4, 1951: The Long Island bridge was opened, costing $2 million at the time. It provided better access to Long Island Hospital, a public facility serving 1,200 chronically ill patients. Until the bridge’s closure, the island hosted and supported social service programs including homeless shelters and an addiction recovery campus.
Oct. 8, 2014: Sixty-three years later, former Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh announced the closure of the Long Island bridge, citing structural concerns raised by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and ordering an emergency evacuation of more than 400 people staying on the island’s homeless facilities and 300 in recovery programs. The unhoused Bostonians were transported to the South End Fitness Center and Carter Auditorium on Northampton Street, according to a Walsh spokeswoman at the time.
In an attempt to help with placement, the city created temporary homeless shelters across Greater Boston, with Boston police staffing the nonpermanent facilities.
March 23, 2015: The Long Island bridge was fully demolished after part of it was removed the month before. The demolition, by Walsh Construction Co. of Chicago, was expected to cost $20.6 million at the time and to be finished by the end of April.
Jan. 1, 2018: In his swearing-in ceremony for his second term as Boston mayor, Walsh vowed to rebuild the bridge to Long Island, saying that the homeless shelters and rehabilitation programs on the island will play a “vital role in Boston’s recovery landscape.”
The proposal estimated the cost of rebuilding the bridge at up to $100 million at the time.
According to Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch’s chief of staff, Christopher Walker, Walsh called Koch the night before the speech to inform him that the city wanted to rebuild the bridge.
“That’s when the red flags started to be raised,” Walker recalled in a phone interview Thursday.
Sept. 5, 2018: The Quincy Conservation Commission denied Boston’s application to rebuild the bridge, illustrating the intense backlash from the city of Quincy about the project. Residents of Squantum, a neighborhood in North Quincy which has historically served as the only road access point to Long Island, felt unsure about the project.
Jan. 15, 2019: Mayor Walsh’s State of the City address featured a statement on reopening Long Island. The former mayor explained that the plan “is not about rebuilding a bridge. It’s about rebuilding a life, by getting that person, and thousands of others across our region, the care they need to get well.”
September 2019: The Quincy Conservation Commission affirmed its denial of the rebuild project, causing Boston to appeal to the state Department of Environmental Protection under the state wetlands protection laws.
December 2020: A Superior Court judge ruled that the Quincy Conservation Commission’s 2018 decision to deny Boston’s application for an order of conditions to rebuild the bridge was effectively null and void. In a press conference at the time, Walsh said he was disappointed to learn that the city of Quincy pledged to continue the dispute.
January 2021: An analysis completed in the waning weeks of Walsh’s administration pegged the cost of rebuilding the addiction recovery campus as between $200 million and $540 million, not including the bridge, which could be north of $80 million. The presentation, which was obtained by the Globe, outlined a campus featuring 500 recovery beds and 440,000 square feet of space, with a mix of short- and long-term residential treatment services that would allow some people to stay for up to 18 months.
January 2022: Boston Mayor Michelle Wu took a boat ride to Long Island to explore the possibility of rebuilding a long-term recovery campus for people in mental health and substance abuse treatment.
“There is a very powerful potential for recovery and for those who need access to services to continue that legacy on the island,” Wu said at the time.
May 12, 2022: US Attorney Rachael Rollins notified Mayor Koch that she was launching a civil rights investigation into Quincy’s efforts to block rebuilding the bridge, saying the city’s stance may discriminate against people with addiction by preventing them from getting treatment at the recovery program Boston wanted to reopen on the island.
July 24, 2022: The Supreme Judicial Court, the state’s highest court, unanimously ruled that state approval for Boston’s Long Island bridge reconstruction plan trumped a rejection by the Quincy Conservation Commission. Wu’s administration called the decision a “major victory” in a statement after the ruling.
July 27, 2022: Suffolk Superior Court Justice Rosemary Connolly reaffirmed a 2018 decision from state environmental authorities that Boston’s proposal to rebuild the bridge does not require the city to prepare an environmental impact report. The ruling stated that the proposal did not require further review under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act, rejecting Quincy officials’ argument that Boston misrepresented the environmental impact of the project.
When the ruling was released, a spokesperson for the Quincy mayor’s office said that officials in the city were still reviewing Connolly’s order but that “an appeal is likely.”
Aug. 24, 2022: In a Facebook livestream interview, Wu said she felt “skeptical about a bridge,” noting that it could take five or more years — and costs could soar as high as $300 million — to repair its footings and replace the span, which was roughly two-thirds of a mile long. The city would continue to pursue permits for the bridge, Wu said, but she suggested a ferry service would be more efficient.
May 21, 2023: Wu told WCVB-TV’s “On The Record” that Boston was closing in on the last permitting hurdles needed to rebuild the Long Island bridge.
Aug. 9, 2023: State authorities issued a Chapter 91 license, which evaluates the impact of a project on public access to coastline and waterways, to city officials, making them one step closer to reconstructing the recovery campus. The next steps for the city are a federal consistency review by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and a bridge permit from the Coast Guard. The city of Quincy plans to appeal the Chapter 91 license, Quincy mayor spokesperson Walker said. Despite that, Wu remained positive about the ruling.
“We are taking this as a ‘go’ sign” for the project,” Wu told the Globe after the permit was issued.
Chris Osgood, Wu’s senior adviser for infrastructure, said the city hopes to reopen the bridge within four years.