Arborway transit process misses deadline

January 11, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH

The state Executive Office of Transportation (EOT) missed a deadline to complete a series of community meetings about public transit improvements in the Arborway corridor currently served by the Route 39 bus, in apparent violation of a 2006 lawsuit settlement.

“There will be a meeting on this in February,” said EOT spokesperson Adam Hurtubise, adding that more information will be forthcoming.

The settlement agreement is between EOT and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), an environmental non-profit organization. CLF previously said it would consider resuming its lawsuit if the meetings do not occur. CLF staff attorney Carrie Russell sent the EOT a letter on Nov. 16 reminding it of the approaching deadline.

In November, 2006, EOT agreed to run a transit improvement process in exchange for the CLF dropping a lawsuit that would have required the controversial restoration of Green Line trolley service between Heath Street and Forest Hills. The agreement said the process had to occur “over the course of the next year.” The process is supposed to seek community consensus, but doesn’t have to result in an actual project.

The first community meeting was held in Jamaica Plain by EOT last September. It was a disaster, infuriating both trolley and bus advocates with its restrictions, including a ban on discussing trolleys and lack of budget and timeline information.

Russell said at that time that such content restrictions also appeared to violate the settlement agreement, indicating that CLF expected later meetings to remedy the situation.

But EOT, apparently stung by the bad reaction, said the future of the process was unclear. No further meetings have followed.

Asked whether the September meeting fulfilled the settlement agreement, Russell said, “No, and I don’t think EOT was saying that is enough. That was sort of a preliminary meeting, is my understanding.”

In the recent CLF letter to EOT, Russell wrote, “We are not aware of any further progress since that [September] meeting and we are very concerned that the deadline for completion of this process will not be met…CLF requests an update on progress thus far and a schedule for completion of this requirement. We hope that the Executive Office of Transportation is striving to comply with the deadline for completion of this requirement and that the remainder of the process will allow all viewpoints to be heard.”

EOT oversees the MBTA, which in 1985 “temporarily” suspended Arborway trolley service and replaced it with the 39 bus. Trolley restoration was one of several transit projects EOT was required to complete as mitigations for the Big Dig under a previous CLF lawsuit.

The state and the MBTA have attempted to get out of doing the restoration several times, but have repeatedly been ordered by environmental officials to complete it. Meanwhile, JP has become divided on the issue, and 39 bus ridership has fallen significantly (though it is unclear if its current trend is up or down).

In 2004, the state announced it would simply re-write environmental regulations so it no longer had to do trolley restoration, among other projects. The 2006 CLF lawsuit was an attempt to enforce those projects. The settlement followed when it appeared the regulation changes would render the lawsuit moot.

The local pro-trolley Arborway Committee organization has its own lawsuit pending that also seeks to enforce trolley restoration.

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