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Comm Ave Construction Nears Final Stretch

Project will be complete by summer’s end


Trees and benches are gradually replacing orange barrels after blocking lanes for two years on Commonwealth Avenue. Photos by Kalman Zabarsky

The barrels and traffic cones that march up Commonwealth Avenue from Kenmore Square have become such campus fixtures that some might suggest changing the University’s colors from scarlet and white to orange and white. But the construction project that has snarled vehicular and pedestrian traffic along Comm Ave for the past two years is drawing to a close.

“Everything will be completed by move-in weekend in August,” says Michael Hathaway, assistant vice president for campus planning and construction. “And a lot of it will be finished in time for Commencement.”

While 50,000 people are expected for Commencement, on Sunday, May 18, Hathaway does not anticipate any problems. “Of course, safety and accessibility are our primary concerns for the weekend,” he says. “But we have never had any problems in the past.”

The project, which began in summer 2006, is part of a Massachusetts Highway Department effort to spruce up Commonwealth Avenue and make it more pedestrian-friendly. Last winter, crews eliminated one of three traffic lanes on the street’s westbound side, as well as the left-turn lane at Sherborn Street. Workers widened the sidewalks and installed raised granite planters, benches, and bicycle racks. Landscaping crews are now planting a total of 200 trees to create a green buffer between the buildings and the street.

“When everything is done, it’s going to look like a completely different campus,” Hathaway says. What had been a mile-long stretch of concrete and asphalt between Kenmore Square and the BU Bridge will more closely resemble the Emerald Necklace, as the city’s parkways are known, designed by renowned 19th-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

The most significant changes involve major upgrades in pedestrian safety, Hathaway says. The sidewalks and crosswalks were widened to better accommodate the area’s high volume of foot traffic, and disability access was enhanced. In addition, a travel lane is being added to the westbound corner of Commonwealth Avenue at the BU Academy parking lot area to help minimize traffic congestion and make pedestrian crossings easier.

Although the construction project is a state initiative, BU has contributed more than $3 million toward the improvements, according to Hathaway. The money paid for irrigation and landscaping, the granite planters, decorative bricks, benches, bike racks, trash receptacles, plants, trees, and soil.

Throughout the project, the University has remained in regular contact with the state’s contractor, McCourt Construction. “We couldn’t have asked for a better team,” Hathaway says. “They work around our academic schedule, and they’ve been very cooperative during major University events, such as move-in weekend, Matriculation, and Commencement.”

When students return for fall semester, they’ll find flowering trees and decorative shrubbery in place of construction equipment along Commonwealth Avenue. As for the orange barrels — they’ll be only one street over. In September, a two-year utility improvement project begins on Bay State Road.

To learn more about the construction project or to receive e-mail updates, visit the Commonwealth Avenue Improvement Project Web site.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.


4 Comments on Comm Ave Construction Nears Final Stretch

  • John on 05.02.2008 at 9:02 am

    Comm Ave Construction Progress Article

    “… will more closely resemble the Emerald Necklace, as the city’s parkways are known…” is not factually correct.
    IIRC, the phrase “Emerald Necklace did NOT refer to roadways or parkways, but landscaped park areas, like the nearby Fens. These were planned/designed “green” areas created to break-up the relentless block-upon-block of buildings and to preserve some touchstone to nature for city-dwellers.
    That a very few roads, like downtown Commonwealth Avenue, have some green component to them (in this case the mall that divides the inbound & outbound lanes in th Back Bay) does not make them the origin of the term Emerald Necklace.
    I do think it is a terrific idea that there are more trees and planting along the cities roads.

  • Anonymous on 05.05.2008 at 8:47 am

    Wider sidewalks? I'm not convinced.

    “Workers widened the sidewalks and installed raised granite planters, benches, and bicycle racks.” Yup, those things have certainly been added and the effect is pleasing to the eye — when no one is trying to walk. However, I wonder if anyone on the planning team has tried to walk on these “wider” sidewalks during the periods between classes. The stretch on the south side of Comm. Ave. between 700 and the Guitar Center is brutal. The trees, benches and bike racks significantly reduce the width of the walkway. The sardine effect when a lot of people attempt to walk in both directions is significant. The project is a wonderful idea, but the execution has fallen short of the intended goals of safety (from cars, maybe, but watch out for those new trees’ branches at eye height or the bike racks in the middle of traffic!) and better pedestrian flow.

  • mens necklace on 12.02.2008 at 1:43 pm

    Finally, a more aesthetic looking street that took ages to finish. It definitely is more refreshing to pass by the new Commonwealth Avenue that it was before.

  • Diane Johnson - Men's Necklaces on 02.03.2009 at 12:17 pm

    It’s just ironic that being a “state initiative” this project is, BU still ended up spending $3M for it. I mean, you know, if the Feds thought of doing it in the first place then they should be the first one to shell out some budget for it. But then again, it’s all for the good. Whatever gets through our life, it’s all right. ;-)


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