Franklyn Salimbene, in his letter to the editor published June 27 in the JP Gazette, asserts that there was “not one word about extending the Orange Line beyond Forest Hills” in the Forest Hills Improvement Initiative process. I was at one of the first community meetings in 2007, where we were told to think big, and one of the first community ideas raised was extending the Orange Line. John Dalzell from the Boston Redevelopment Authority sketched two broad arrows on a poster-sized map, one towards Needham, the other towards Readville.
Unfortunately, Forest Hills planners—and I include all residents who’ve participated in this process—have our hands tied here. This is not a true master plan for transit-oriented development (TOD), and almost no state officials (who like to tout TOD) have been involved. It all started because the MBTA is severely in debt, and is selling every spare parcel of real estate it can find. New transit construction is not only unlikely, it’s completely out of the MBTA’s hands. The Executive Office of Transportation makes the T’s planning and construction decisions. The process has incorporated some offshoots since then, but I fear that if we try to tack every concern we have as a community onto it, the T will either proceed disregarding all of our concerns, or the station area will remain a relative wasteland.
That said, I fully support increasing transit capacity in the area, including the idea of making more commuter rail trains stop at Forest Hills, which did not come up at the 2007 meeting. I can tell you from observing the existing track layout, however, that the Forest Hills platform only serves Track 3 of the Northeast Corridor, which runs with the inbound morning and outbound evening rushes. So Stoughton/Providence/Forge Park trips serving Forest Hills couldn’t serve “reverse-commute” destinations as Mr. Salimbene suggests, unless the entire mainline was reconfigured—for example, if it were widened to four tracks as has been proposed as an alternative to putting the new Fall River/New Bedford line through wetlands.