A correction has been added to this story.
BOSTON MAYOR MARTY WALSH appears to be backing away from plans to rebuild the bridge to Long Island, partly because of opposition from the city of Quincy and partly because all the homeless and drug treatment services on the island have successfully been relocated to the mainland.
The two-lane bridge was taken down in 2015 after the state condemned it as unsafe. Walsh pledged to rebuild the bridge and restore the services on the island, but almost nothing has been done. City officials aren’t talking about their plans, but it appears the $80 million project has quietly been shelved.
“We have no new updates as far as design and development of a new bridge,” said Walsh press secretary Nicole Caravella in an email. Caravella said city officials who could talk about the bridge were not available. All indications from city budget documents and state and Quincy officials are that building a new bridge is no longer in the offing.
The Long Island Bridge connected Long Island and Moon Island. Both islands are owned by Boston, but could only be reached by driving through the Squantum section of Quincy and across the causeway to Moon Island. Quincy officials have long opposed the island traffic going through Squantum, but there wasn’t much they could do about it.
Long Island had been the site of a 450-bed homeless shelter program, drug treatment programs for as many as 300 clients, a youth summer camp which is still operational, and several smaller public and private health and transitional housing programs. Squantum residents said a regular stream of workers’ cars as well as scores of buses made daily trips there, bringing homeless people from Boston streets to and from the shelters and programs morning and night.
The bridge had been falling apart for years and former Boston mayor Thomas Menino had vowed to rebuild it despite Quincy’s opposition because the city wanted to maintain the services on the island. But in late-2014, during Walsh’s first year in office, the state abruptly condemned the structure and forced the city to move all programs and clients off the island in a hurried exodus. Walsh, though not as strident as his predecessor, promised to find the money to reconstruct the span and keep the programs on the island.
Walsh pledged $35 million from the city toward the cost, saying the remainder would come from state and federal grants, even though the bridge is the only one in the city not under state control and the state has no obligation to rebuild it. But Quincy remained adamantly opposed, and sources at the state Department of Transportation said that opposition has influenced the agency to keep its distance from funding and rebuilding the bridge.
In the outline of Boston’s proposed 2018 city budget, $32.4 million is allotted for rebuilding the bridge, a carryover figure from the previous year. But the bridge is not included in a map of capital projects that is part of the budget and officials entered zero in the projected expenditures column.
In 2015, DOT officials and Boston agreed the state would pay half the cost of redesign for a new structure, or up to $4.4 million. But Jacqueline Goddard, a DOT spokeswoman, says the state has only sent the city a little more than $735,000 and there have been no further requests. She declined comment about DOT’s involvement and referred questions to the city on design and rebuilding plans.
In order for the project to move forward, Boston would have to file some applications and environmental reports with Quincy, but a spokesman for Mayor Thomas Koch says there has been no communication since the structure was demolished in 2015, leaving about a dozen rusted stanchions that had supported the three-quarter mile gusset bridge sticking up from the water.
“We have had no discussions relative to the reconstruction of Long Island Bridge,” says Koch’s spokesman, Christopher Walker. “The city of Boston has not reached out at all.”
Much of the pressure to rebuild the bridge has been taken off by alternative sites around the city that have been found for the services once provided there. Barbara Trevisan, communications director for Pine Street Inn, which operated the main homeless program on the island, said all the beds that had been on Long Island have been replaced around the city.
“We’ve been able to replicate those services in and around the city,” she says.
The detox and treatment services have also been spread out around Boston and most of the other services have been absorbed in other public and private agencies.
Former state senator Michael Morrissey, a resident of Squantum and a strong opponent of building a new bridge, said now that most of those services have moved elsewhere, there’s no need to rebuild the bridge. He noted the summer camp leases a ferry to bring the children back and forth to the island. He said if Boston decides to develop the property or place other services out there, rebuilding the piers out there and either leasing or buying a ferry would be much more cost-effective. But in the meantime, there is nothing there requiring land access.
“It shouldn’t happen,” said Morrissey. “I’m more disappointed that when they took the bridge down, they didn’t take the stanchions down. They would have been basically building a bridge that goes nowhere.”
Morrissey, who is now the Norfolk district attorney, says he and his neighbors never had a problem with the programs housed on Long Island, just with the way the city accessed them with what he says is little regard for residents.
“Boston always treated us like second-class citizens,” says Morrissey. “The programs didn’t bother anybody, it was the traffic.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Victory Programs as operating the detox program on Long Island. Victory operated a 47-bed women’s recovery program on the island.