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Shirley Leung | COMMENTARY

Use GE money to fix the Northern Ave. bridge

The Northern Avenue Bridge today is a rusting hulk closed to all traffic. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The state’s deal to lure General Electric Co. to Boston feels a lot sweeter with the $252 million sale of the company’s Fort Point headquarters property.

So what should the state do with its $98 million cut?

The answer is obvious: Rebuild the nearby Northern Avenue bridge.

Tucked in the 2016 agreement to bring GE’s global headquarters to the Seaport District was a heightened commitment from the City of Boston to reopen the bridge. The rusty steel structure, which spans the Fort Point Channel, has been shuttered since 2014 after the city deemed it unsafe to carry even pedestrians.


I’m not sure if GE really cared if the century-old bridge ever got fixed. Or whether many Bostonians cared if GE came to town. But the company’s arrival made fixing the bridge more urgent.

The Seaport District’s traffic woes are notorious — and no doubt will get worse as the neighborhood gets built out. A functioning Northern Avenue bridge will help ease congestion because it provides another route to and from the Seaport.

Now here’s a minor detail: The City of Boston owns the bridge, and it was the city that pledged to take care of the repairs. So why would the state part with the money it’s getting back from GE?

Here’s why: Charlie Baker should finish what he started and help his BFF Marty Walsh fulfill a promise the mayor made if GE moved to Boston. The company is still headquartered here; it’s just a lot smaller, which is why it sold off its real estate to Alexandria Real Estate Equities and National Development, in a deal announced Thursday. (GE will instead lease space from the new property owners.)

And what’s good for Boston is good for the Commonwealth, right?

It’s not too late for the state to contribute to the project. In fact, it might be the perfect moment. Sure, GE arrived here three years ago, but the city is still debating what kind of bridge to build. (Note to GE corporate transplants: Yes, that snail’s pace is par for the course for Boston.)


It was just last month the city unveiled four proposals for a new Northern Avenue bridge, which could cost up to $160 million. Designs ranged from restoring much of the historic bridge to a no-frills flat span.

All of the versions call for sidewalks, bike lanes, and a lane dedicated to buses and other high-occupancy vehicles traveling from the Seaport onto Atlantic Avenue. The bridge last carried cars in 1997.

But now some community advocates are pushing a fifth option: a bridge designed only for pedestrians and cyclists. That’s a good idea, especially given the city’s commitment to fighting climate change. It could encourage more people to ditch their cars, which would reduce vehicle emissions. The city should do the work to determine whether such a car-free option is viable. Plus, how cool would it be?

City engineers would like to settle on a design this year and begin construction in 2021.

As for the funding, Walsh so far has promised $46 million from the city, and South Boston Congressman Stephen Lynch has secured $10 million in federal monies. Seaport Square developer WS has also pledged $2 million.

If Baker kicked in $98 million from the GE proceeds, well, ladies and gentlemen, the South Boston waterfront would pretty much have a fully funded new bridge.

According to the governor’s office, the state plans to spend its share of the GE property sale on “capital projects.” No decisions have been made.


Baker and Walsh teamed up to bring GE to Boston, and they should remain partners in fulfilling a promise to make it easier for everyone working in the Seaport District to get around.

I can’t think of a better capital project than the Northern Avenue Bridge.

Shirley Leung is the Globe’s interim editorial page editor. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @leung.