Coast Guard pressures Mayor Menino to demolish Old Northern Avenue Bridge

According to a report in today's Boston Herald, the Coast Guard is pressuring the City of Boston to repair or replace the Old Northern Avenue Bridge in the near future or it will force demolition of the historic structure. The Coast Guard has closed the bridge to all pedestrians. Pedestrians must now exit the Harborwark at the foot of Northern Ave. and continue on Atlantic Avenue if they wish to re-enter the Seaport District over one of the other crossings.

Should the Northern Avenue Bridge be demolished, this gap in the Harborwalk would be permanent. No connection is planned between the existing Harborwalk and the Moakley Bridge or between the Moakley Bridge and the Federal Courthouse docks. This detour currently requires a 1/2 mile walk along traffic, construction and parking lots -- an absolute deterrent for tourists and most pedestrians.

The pressure to demolish the bridge is being accelerated by the Coast Guard at the same time that the BRA has reportedly issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for redevelopment of the bridge -- as a tool for developers to suggest creative re-use and preservation measures. (to read related information about this RFP and the bridge, click here)


SAND continues to actively support the preservation and creative re-use of the historic Northern Avenue Bridge as a pedestrian crossing into the Seaport District. We are aware that a number of developers are drafting re-use proposals in preparation for response to the City's RFP.

The Coast Guard argues that the bridge is unsafe for pedestrians -- a yet unsubstantiated claim. Two years ago, fully loaded 18-wheeled trucks and buses were continually using the bridge as one of the main thoroughfares from the Marine Industrial Park and the World Trade Center to downtown Boston. For decades the bridge serviced heavy loads but suddenly, according to the Coast Guard, it is now unsafe for all loads -- even pedestrians. No incidents of injury, accident or unsafe conditions have been reported.

Regarding its demands, the Coast Guard has not held a single public hearing for the benefit of residents and business owners in the area, or even for its own constituents -- boaters and users of the Harbor and waterways. The bridge's closest constituent -- James Hook Lobster Company, has been public and vocal in support of the bridge's preservation.

We at SAND are aware that Coast Guard issues merit consideration, but believe that the Coast Guard has used its authority as a Federal Agency to relentlessly pursue demolition rather than a reasoned compromise. The Coast Guard has effectively muted the voices of numerous architects, historians, residents and tourists who have demonstrated the value of this magnificent structure.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wavers between support, demolition and replacement of the Old Northern Avenue Bridge [click here to read the Coast Guard's account which demonstrate a fundamental lack of continuity between Boston City Hall's public statements of support of the Old Northern Avenue Bridge and its internal policy decisions].

We at SAND will continue to stress that the bridge's future is emblematic of the Seaport District planning debate between those who treasure these priceless encapsulations of Boston "character" and those who believe character can be purchased and "programmed" into new development. In a broad sense, and in this instance regarding the Old Northern Avenue Bridge, only the will and the resolve of the People of Boston are left to protect the former from the latter.

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