It seems that many projects in Worcester go through the following cycle:
- Numerous public hearings are held. Elected officials may or may not attend, as half the hearings will conflict with another meeting.
- The news media pays limited attention to the project.
- Suddenly — after 2-3 years — the design is set and the project is ready to start.
- Various politicians come out of the woodwork to start bitching about various aspects of the project.
- The news media proceeds to fan flames instead of providing any sort of reason/analysis on the issue.
Right now, the Burns Bridge project is somewhere between the last and second-to-last bullet point: the horse is clearly out of the barn, the time to have started asking about attractive bridge options was about a year and a half ago, but now that we’ve had both a Dianne Williamson column AND not one but two regular articles written about the bridge, our state reps and senators feel they have enough traction to put the project on hold in the hopes that we will get a really expensive — but still quite ugly — bridge.
[I should note that Kate Toomey has been consistently opposed to all bridge designs and has expressed her preference for something like this.]
We’re at the point where hyperbole runs unchecked — various elected officials are making all sorts of ridiculous claims, and no one in the news media is willing to say anything contrary to those claims.
We’ve had various legislators and media personalities tell us that this is bridge is a major gateway to the city, that Worcester needs this bridge in order to stick it to those meanies in Boston, and that the rather repulsive through arch design would create both a “signature bridge” and something of a minor tourist attraction.
We’ve even had State Rep Pedone say that this bridge could be “an economic driver for the central part of the state.”
This is a bridge, folks.
While many bridges — Golden Gate, Brooklyn, and my favorite, the French King — are all visually appealing and help give character to an area, there are no bridges I know of between two rather small-sized communities that are drivers of major economic development.
The Zakim Bridge has been mentioned. The Zakim Bridge is 1,432 feet long, and the Burns Bridge is 350 feet feet long; the Zakim is much higher than the Burns as well. (Let’s leave aside its 10 lanes versus the six lanes proposed for the Burns Bridge.)
No one goes to Boston to see the Zakim Bridge. People might really want to drive over it, they might take a picture of it, but it’s not a tourist attraction.
We’ve been focusing on the wrong things when it comes to the Zakim Bridge; that is, the price and the attractiveness.
Yes, the Zakim Bridge is dramatic (I would not go so far as to call it attractive), but it’s got the space to be dramatic, and — as to its price — the state can’t even pay for the lights to stay on. This is not what we want to model the Burns Bridge after.
The real point of the Zakim Bridge — the point that most everyone is missing — is that we paid a real architect to design something unique for a specific site.
The difference between the Zakim Bridge and the Burns Bridge is the difference between a custom-built house and a pre-fab house.
Instead we’ve got Matt Beaton harping on about how we deserve the most expensive bridge we can possibly put on the site, and how one more foot of clearance underneath is worth $40 million.
Jim O’Day says that a lesser bridge could somehow make Worcester a “second-class city.”
You know what makes a second-class city?
Folks who have such an inferiority complex that they blame nearly every bad situation on a random enemy (in this case, “Boston” or “the state”) and then look at something tacky and pre-fab as the height of class and character.
We’re putting a bridge between Worcester and Shrewsbury. Or, more precisely, between a piece of land whose most prominent features are strip malls and a piece of land whose most prominent features are hospitals. It’s also a bridge that attracts many local pedestrians (for shopping and for viewing various boating events).
This bridge does not bring in massive amounts of tourists, nor should it. This is a gateway to the city in the same way that teh other side of Route 9 (Main Street to Leicester) is a gateway to the city; that is, a way folks who are already familiar with Worcester get into town.
I would guess that most tourist-visitors to the city come via 290 and head downtown. Enough with the “gateway.”
When I’ve attended and read about the public hearings about this bridge, the focus has been on the very real concerns of those who use and are affected by the bridge, so there have been discussions about being able to make a left turn when you’re westbound, the number of lanes on the bridge, the clearance for boaters, integration with Belmont Street and with Shrewsbury, etc.
Many people I’ve heard from online and in person have been opposed to the through arch because it looks ugly to them and is overwhelming to (and misses the point of) the natural beauty of the lake itself.
The only statement we’re really making if we push the through arch is that we can waste money as much as “Boston” (or “the state”, or whomever we’re trying to prove our first-class-ness to) can, and that we’re not really looking at this site with the same thoughtfulness and foresight that many residents have.
Dianne W. said — a touch tongue in cheek — that we’re “entitled to a bridge with some bling.”
I dislike the word “entitled”, but we should certainly ask what we deserve.
In this case, we deserved elected officials who were willing to ask for a design competition at the very first signs that this bridge would be replaced. A design competition would have introduced us to designers who were not interested in a cookie-cutter bridge, or a bridge that belongs in South Beach, but something that was carefully designed for the site.
We deserve elected officials who do not come after the horse has left the barn with cries for spending money for an ugly, unnecessary bridge.
We deserve elected officials who understand that more money spent on this project is not more money from “the state” or “Boston”, but more money from ourselves because — guess what? — we’re taxpayers!