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How to better connect Mass MoCA and downtown North Adams? Study would explore options — including removing the Route 2 overpass

NORTH ADAMS — More than 100,000 people visit Mass MoCA each year, but that doesn’t translate to heavy foot traffic downtown.

Infrastructure changes could be a way to make the equation work better.

The city and the museum are applying for a federal grant to fund a proposed study looking at traffic and pedestrian flow, and the possibility of removing the Route 2 overpass to better connect the museum and downtown, Mayor Jennifer Macksey and Jenny Wright, Mass MoCA’s director of strategic communications and advancement, told the city’s Mass MoCA Commission on Monday night.

“The proposal is not to remove the bridge,” Macksey said. If funded, a study could look at the possibility of removing the overpass, ways to beautify the overpass, and/or other traffic patterns for the bridge and surrounding connectors, Macksey said. She doesn’t want people to think, “Oh my god the city and Mass MoCA are taking the bridge down,” she said.

“This is a feasibility study to study the traffic and flow of traffic and also pedestrians in that area.”

The city and museum are applying for funding through the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, a new initiative created under the bipartisan infrastructure bill last year. “It is the first-ever Federal program dedicated to reconnecting communities that were previously cut off from economic opportunities by transportation infrastructure,” reads the U.S. Department of Transportation website about the program.

North Adams is an ideal candidate, Wright said.

“One of the things that I’ve noticed that’s come up again and again over the years at Mass MoCA is the priority of getting Mass MoCA’s patrons to Main Street,” she said, “and what we’ve learned, and I think you all are aware, that it’s not enough to just put up a sign that says, you know downtown’s that way in the hopes that a global audience will find their way there. There are actual physical and psychological barriers that put Mass MoCA on one side and downtown on the other side of a highway. We’re bifurcated by infrastructure.”

That’s also a point Kristy Edmunds, the museum’s director, recently made to The Eagle. “MASS MoCA has its own physical layout and scale and it sits on the ‘other’ side of that overpass,” she wrote in an email.

Wright pointed to the overpass as a challenge, too.

“These are the kinds of challenges that can’t again, be overcome by paint or programming partnerships. What we really need is a seamless connection between Mass MoCA’s campus and the downtown,” she said.

The North Adams Vision 2030 plan — a master plan for the city finalized in 2014 — suggests that the city consider reconstructing the overpass rather than just maintaining it, though it would be costly.

“Consider the re-integration of Route 2 into the downtown, perhaps also allowing additional development in that area more reminiscent of the downtown prior to urban renewal demolitions,” the report reads.

“Removing the overpass, as recommended by that plan that was adopted by the city in 2014, is really the straightest line that kind of connects our two dots,” Wright said. “This is really the moment to think big about these kinds of things. And it really needs to go on beyond Mass MoCA as sort of approaching the city for approval of a sculpture or an installation.”

After hearing from Wright and Macksey, the Mass MoCA Commission voted Monday to formally support the grant application, which is due in mid-October.

“I think this is an endeavor that really shows MoCA and the city working together,” Macksey said “This is one step of us publicly saying that MoCA isn’t just sitting there on the other side of the bridge. We are partners and they are an active participant in this community.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6272.


Greta Jochem, a Report for America Corps member, joined the Eagle in 2021. Previously, she was a reporter at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. She is also a member of the investigations team.

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