T manager tours bus yard, seeks funds

July 9, 2010
By

John Ruch

FOREST HILLS—MBTA General Manager Richard Davey toured the Arborway Yard bus facility area with residents last month, and told the Gazette this week that he will seek funding for a long-stalled new facility there.

“I think it’s a great project. It’s just a question of funding,” said Davey about the plans for a new, larger MBTA bus facility at the Arborway and Washington Street and the related community-based redevelopment of another 8 acres of land there.

Davey said the funding will be a “challenge, but we’re committed to solving it.” He said he will investigate the possibility of federal funding for the project’s roughly $200 million budget, and will look at where the project might fit into the MBTA capital plan “over the next couple of years.”

The Community Planning Committee for the Arborway Yard (CPCAY), a local group of residents that has advised the MBTA on the plan for more than a decade, was scheduled to meet Wednesday night to provide an update on Davey’s efforts. Earlier this year, CPCAY was joined by Mayor Thomas Menino and other elected officials in pushing the MBTA to fund the project.

“It sounds like they’re supportive,” CPCAY member Allan Ihrer said of the MBTA. He said CPCAY intends to keep up momentum for the “groundbreaking” project where a bus maintenance facility will become the key for building housing, commercial space and a neighborhood park.

The MBTA currently operates a “temporary” bus facility on the Arborway Yard site, as well as an administrative office building that will remain as part of the new project. Two weeks ago, Davey toured the site with CPCAY members, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, state Rep. Liz Malia and a representative from City Councilor John Tobin’s office.

Ihrer said that the group “made sure [Davey] saw Washington Street and how dilapidated it is and how it’s impacted by the bus facility there.”

“In terms of appearance, it’s largely a large parking lot,” Davey told the Gazette of the current “temporary” facility, which has operated for a half-decade. He said that the MBTA recently removed some materials from the site, and that construction equipment stored there for a Back Bay station project will soon go away.

“But obviously, it is an active facility,” Davey said, adding that the MBTA likely would be spending money on “upgrading” it if it were not temporary.

Arborway Yard planning has involved heated controversies and big surprises. It began over 10 years ago as a surprise announcement by the MBTA that it would build a new, gigantic bus garage and maintenance facility on the current site. With strong backing from Menino and other officials, residents were able to form CPCAY and get design review.

That led to years of complex negotiations and an agreement that several acres of land would be given to the city for redevelopment into housing, commercial space and green space.

In 2007, CPCAY met to approve a final design. But MBTA officials then stunned everyone by announcing that, despite their previous agreement to the plan, it would not work. Instead, the MBTA demanded a facility 1 acre larger. Then-MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas apologized to Jamaica Plain for the surprise at the time.

In 2008, CPCAY finally approved a final design with a more modest expansion in a controversial vote. Since then, it has pushed for full funding to complete the design and enter construction.

Asked about the history of Arborway Yard surprises, Davey indicated that he was not aware of the most recent controversy over the design expansion. He described the current design as “tight,” but also said it looks good.

“I saw the schematic and it looks like a pretty tight facility,” Davey said. “It seem to me like we’ve got just enough room, if you will, to be feasible” for MBTA operations that can “co-exist” with the community-redeveloped land, he said.

“I have no concerns about the plans that I saw,” Davey said, adding that MBTA operations and planning officials were with him as he looked over the plans. “I think for me, it’s just now a question of funding.”

Davey said he intends to meet with CPCAY members again in the fall as the MBTA formulates its capital plan.