Work officially began today on a project to restore the Muddy River to something closer to what Olmsted might recognize - and to reduce the odds of another devastating flood along the normally placid series of brooks and ponds at the heart of the Emerald Necklace.
Officials said the first phase of the project, which will last three years and cost $31 million, will involve dredging current channels, replacing some culverts with larger pipes or opening them back up as streams and moving some nearby roads.
Motorists can expect periodic delays during the project, which will include construction of a dam-like weir upstream to prevent flooding during the work.
But when done, officials hope, we won't have to worry about a repeat of the Flood of 1996, when a torrent of Muddy River water flooded nearby areas and shut the Kenmore Square T stop for two months. In 2010, the MBTA had to repeatedly shut service on the Riverside Line when the river again flooded, forcing the T to dam up the line's entrance to Kenmore to prevent a repeat of 1996.
Among the most noticeable changes: The grassy field in front of Landmark Center, formerly a parking lot, will be largely torn up to let the Muddy run free across the land once more. Officials held their formal groundbreaking today on that parcel.
Former Gov. Michael Dukakis, who still takes regular walks along the river and who spearheaded efforts more than 30 years ago to have it restored, praised a tent full of officials and residents from Boston and Brookline for never giving up on the river and the Emerald Necklace.
He recalled the Emerald Necklace's nadir, in the 1950s and 1960s, when state officials agreed to pave over the lagoon for a Sears parking lot, when officials almost gave permission to the Red Sox to pave over the Victory Gardens for another parking lot and when the state came close to building multi-lane highways along and across the Necklace.
Today, he said, Boston has become a world leader in parks. He said that after a recent trip to Paris, he realized that "Boston today is more beautiful than Paris, and I mean it."