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Quincy Mayor Promises to Force Boston To Bargaining Table Over Long Island Bridge

Battle Of The Bridge: A Sit Down With Quincy Mayor Tom Koch

Mayor Thomas Koch
Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch explains his opposition to the Long Island Bridge to WGBH's Morning Edition on Thursday, May 15 from his office at City Hall.
Ciku Theuri
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Quincy Mayor Promises to Force Boston To Bargaining Table Over Long Island Bridge

Mayor Thomas Koch stood inside of his office on the third floor of Quincy's City Hall Thursday, staring out over Quincy Center. He pointed over to two small bronze statues of John Hancock and John Quincy Adams standing atop a corner bookshelf. These are miniature models of nine-foot statues that will soon be the centerpiece of a park right below his office window.

Koch has a vision that those statues will land on the National Register of Historic Places. They're part of a broader plan — which includes a large redevelopment project currently underway in the city's center — to solidify Quincy's place as tourist destination. Koch says he wants everyone to understand that Quincy is not just a pass-through city to reach Boston.

That dynamic is part of the fuel feeding a campaign to stop Boston Mayor Marty Walsh's plan to rebuild the Long Island Bridge in Boston Harbor. Long Island and Moon Island are owned by the city of Boston, but they are only accessible by land by driving through Quincy.

Walsh announced in January that he plans to rebuild the Long Island Bridge after tearing it down in 2014 because of structural problems. Walsh sees the bridge as key to realizing his vision of building an addiction recovery campus on Long Island.

Koch says he and many residents of Squantum see the bridge as another example of their larger neighbor passing a plan without considering their concerns.

“We’re not going to see to eye on this one. I represent the people of Quincy. There's a long history, quite frankly, of Boston not listening to Quincy, and abusing, quite frankly, its neighbor to the south. I'm not saying that's true of Marty, I'm saying historically,” Koch said.

Koch is not opposed to opening a recovery campus and is instead arguing that Boston should expand its ferry service.

Walsh's office tells WGBH News that in cases of emergency, a ferry is impractical and "would extend the time before an individual in need can receive the medical care that is available on an ambulance." Walsh's office also said "weather-related ferry cancellations are of a great concern" and could prevent people from getting the services they need.

“Show me the back up, show me the data for that argument. Where’s the evidence? I just don't buy it,” Koch said.

Koch has the backing of Squantum residents, who overwhelmingly rejected the project at a recent hearing attended by WGBH News, calling the potential increase in traffic a quality of life and safety issue. Residents say roads in the heavily residential neighborhood are narrow and can't handle a constant stream of cars.

Quincy's City Council seems to agree. This week, the council introduced two ordinances that could potentially create further headaches for the Walsh administration. One restricts vehicles of a certain weight, such as construction trucks, from traveling along Dorchester Street — which leads to the only passageway to reach Long Island by land. The other ordinance would require any bridge project to receive approval from Quincy's Planning Board, a process that would trigger a protracted study and public commenting period.

But these moves, it seems, aren't deterring Boston. Days after these ordinances were introduced, Boston's Conservation Commission approved Walsh's plan to avoid passing through Quincy by building the bridge off-site, floating it through the Harbor and assembling it over the water. Walsh also argues that Quincy would benefit from a recovery campus because the island would accept patients from across the state.

Koch says Quincy doesn't need the resources.

"We are meeting the needs of the people we serve. I'm not gonna take a back seat to Marty or anybody on that [opioid] issue and how we deal with it. We've spent a lot of time on this ... [we've] worked so damn hard on this.”

Koch suggested building a regional recovery center at the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital in Jamaica Plain, which will soon be open to redevelopment. But Walsh’s office says Long Island already has the infrastructure in place and the available acreage gives Boston the flexibility to expand its services if the demand is there.

Despite the heated passions from Squantum and both mayors digging in their heels, Koch claims he still has a friendly relationship with Walsh.

“I have great respect for Marty, his team, but this [debate] is gonna be on the issue, not on the relationship, the merits of the issue and the due diligence of the issue,” Koch said.

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