‘It is a game-changing event to bring those ramps down.’
COURTESY FALL RIVER OFFICE OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
LEVEL HEADED: The I-195 interchange in Fall River, with the elevated Route 79 running north below the Braga Bridge. Massachusetts plans to bring Route 79 to ground level.
Almost every American city has had to live with at least one old highway overpass cutting through downtown that isolates neighborhoods and repels visitors.
In Fall River the least popular is Route 79 and the tangle of ramps connecting it to Interstate 195 at the Braga Bridge. The rusted steel and concrete overpasses haven’t aged well and have been blamed for disconnecting the city from its waterfront.
Now Massachusetts is moving ahead with a long-awaited plan to replace the “spaghetti ramps” and the elevated Route 79 with a ground-level boulevard.
The $130 million project ties in with Fall River’s waterfront-redevelopment efforts and local leaders say it could help transform a large section of the city and draw activity to downtown.
“For us it is a game-changing event to bring those ramps down and create a boulevard along the waterfront,” said Robert Mellion, president of the Fall River Chamber of Commerce. “In 1965, the federal government diverted the business-district core from the waterfront and created a physical barrier that has been very difficult to overcome. It created an avenue to bypass Fall River and now we are going to have the opportunity to remedy this long-time wrong.”
In many ways, the Route 79 project shares similarities with other major highway projects like the Route 18 reconstruction on the New Bedford waterfront and the I-195 relocation in Providence.
All three were designed to replace deteriorating highways with new roadways that won’t sever downtown from waterfront neighborhoods.
“By taking this ramp system down to the ground, we are able to open up additional commercial acreage for development,” Mellion said. “Now you have a highway system that allows access on and off. It helps brings people into the city and increases opportunities to develop the waterfront commercially.”