MassDOT is redesigning the mile long corridor along and across Route 79 and Davol Street to improve mobility, connectivity and safety. (MassDOT rendering)
A ceremonial groundbreaking led by outgoing Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and other state and local leaders officially kicked off in late December on the much-anticipated $135 million Massachusetts Route 79 and Davol Street Corridor Improvement project at Fall River's City Pier.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) building effort will transform the Route 79 corridor from Central Street, near Battleship Cove, to the Veterans Memorial Bridge by demolishing the four-lane elevated portion of the waterfront highway and creating an urban boulevard in Fall River.
"There are actually two goals to the project," said Lenny Velichansky, vice president and project manager of TranSystems, a Missouri-based engineering and design consulting firm with an office in Boston. "One is to create land for economic development, and the other is to reconnect the neighborhoods to the waterfront."
In fact, when the project is complete, likely at the end of 2026, there will be up to 19 acres of land available for commercial redevelopment and green space, he told the Fall River Herald News, adding it also will open multimodal connections on the highway corridor, like sidewalks, pedestrian crossings and bike paths.
Preliminary design of the Route 79 project is complete, and Velichansky said the design/build phase is moving forward.
D. W. White Construction in Acushnet, Mass., was chosen by MassDOT as the lead builder of the project, along with Salisbury's SPS New England.
Former Gov. Charlie Baker's administration was credited by the local delegation and Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan for having delivered both the Route 79 project and the nearby South Coast Rail project to the city and the state's South Coast.
Polito also recognized the local state delegation, the city administration, and the Bristol County Economic Development Consultants (BCEDC) for keeping the Baker administration on track with seeing the two projects become realities.
She called the project "truly transformational" for Fall River to connect Route 79 and Davol Street to the city and the whole waterfront to Battleship Cove and the Braga Bridge.
"Today is a bellwether day for Fall River," said an emotional Rep. Carole Fiola, D-Sixth Bristol District. "This groundbreaking signifies decades of work by dozens of people throughout the last 20-plus years."
Added BCEDC President Frank Marchione, "It's a big deal. I'm very happy and it's come to fruition just like the train [project]."
Later, Marchione and BCEDC Vice President Ken Fiola discussed the years the project was in the making, starting with a study sponsored by the economic development agency back in 1999 on the revitalization of the city's waterfront.
"When we first came out with all of the recommendations, the consultants said it was going to take us 20 years to implement these things, and I laughed and said, ‘We can get it done in five years, 10 tops,'" Fiola told the News Herald. "And here we are 20 years later. It was a process [to secure] money and things you didn't anticipate. But we stayed the course and were persistent."
Multimodal Urban Boulevard to Be Created
MassDOT is redesigning the one-mi.-long corridor along and across Route 79 and Davol Street to improve mobility, connectivity and safety. As a multimodal urban boulevard, the corridor will connect Fall River's neighborhoods to the Taunton River while promoting economic growth by creating new development parcels to contribute to economic development.
According MassDOT's project page online, the existing Route 79 is being moved onto the current alignments of northbound and southbound Davol Street. The work also includes the design and construction of local roadway connections to the corridor, including Brightman Street, President Avenue, Hathaway Street and Turner Street.
In addition, a network of shared use paths and sidewalks, and new traffic signals, will be designed and built, the state agency noted. Crews are slated to install a new bridge structure and retaining walls, as well as a new drainage system, MassDOT noted.
Land Available for Redevelopment
Mark Twain once said, "Buy land, they aren't making it anymore."
With that in mind, MassDOT has designed a Route 79 plan that will open about 19 acres of developable land that has not existed since the construction of the highway.
But it is apparently still too early to know how and by whom the land will be developed, the Fall River news source noted.
The Herald News reported Massachusetts State Sen. Michael Rodrigues, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, made it clear that the acreage to come from the massive project is owned by the state.
"So, they will have to go through a process to dispose [of] public property," he explained. "It will be a public bidding process and will have to come through the Legislature because we take land transfers very seriously."
Regarding the city's input on how the land will be developed, Rodrigues told the local news outlet that the Fall River Redevelopment Authority will certainly bid on the land.
"We will make sure the Commonwealth gets full and fair market value for the property to protect the taxpayers," he added.
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