FOREST HILLS—The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) plans to host a community meeting as soon as January to discuss plans to tear down and possibly replace the Casey Overpass.
The project is part of a federally funded and state-run accelerated bridge repair program. According to an “Accelerated Bridge Repair Program Update,” dated Sept. 2010, and available on MassDOT’s web site, demolition and construction are planned to run from the summer of 2012 to the summer of 2015.
The Gazette first reported in September that the decrepit overpass looming over the Forest Hills T Station—constructed as a two-lane roadway, but currently running one lane in each direction because the outer lanes are unsafe—is scheduled for demolition in 2012.
Since then state Rep. Liz Malia—with strong urging from local residents—has been encouraging MassDOT officials to meet with local residents to discuss the potential impacts of the major multi-year demolition and construction project.
Those efforts paid off Nov. 9, when MassDOT officials sat down with local community leaders and elected representatives in a daytime meeting at MassDOT’s downtown Boston offices.
“We had a productive meeting…We will be seeking additional feedback from the community at a public meeting that will need to be scheduled,” MassDOT spokesperson Adam Hurtubise told the Gazette in an e-mail in response to numerous requests for comment.
Malia, and Bernie Doherty, head of the Forest Hills-area Asticou-Martinwood Neighborhood Association, told the Gazette in separate interviews that MassDOT officials committed at the Nov. 9 meeting to hosting a public meeting in January.
Other community members, as well as Colleen Keller from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services and a representative from state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz’s office also attended the meeting.
Based on comments by Hurtubise, the Gazette reported in September that MassDOT plans to replace the existing overpass with a new bridge. Both Malia and Doherty told the Gazette that their understanding following the Nov. 9 meeting is that, while it is likely the bridge will be replaced, that is not a sure thing.
“They said replacement is a strong probability, but if there are other options, they are open to them,” Malia told the Gazette.
Doherty said that he thinks it is likely the bridge will need to be replaced, but if MassDOT is able to manage traffic effectively during the demolition process, he might be open to not replacing the bridge.
“It was, I think, a pretty good meeting,” Malia said. She said she was heartened to learn that Frank Tramontozzi, former head of the Boston Transportation Department, is a member of the state’s team working on the project. “I feel better knowing that someone who knows something about city transportation is working on this,” she said.
Doherty told the Gazette the density of the residential and commercial areas surrounding the overpass are going to make the project particularly complicated.
“If it has to come down, it has to come down…It’s going to be tough,” he said, listing a litany of issues that the community will want to discuss, including: work-hours; where demolition and construction staging will happen; how already congested traffic-flow will be managed and potential impacts on local business district.
Adding to the potential mess is the fact that the Forest Hills area is a “real conduit” into the city for vehicular traffic from Boston neighborhoods and surrounding suburbs to the south, and a major public transportation hub. The Forest Hills T Station is the terminus of the MBTA’s Orange Line, and also serves the commuter rail and numerous buses, Doherty said
Further, it is unclear how the Casey plans will effect potential development in the area. The MBTA-owned Arborway bus yard, an 18-acre site on the Franklin Park side of the neighborhood, is slated to get a new facility—with portions of the site being set aside for park space and private development—though no funding has been allocated for that close to $200 million project. Other large MBTA-owned parcels in the area have been put up for sale in recent years. WCI, a local developer and contactor, is working to build offices and retail at one of those sites—a small two-parcel site straddling Washington Street heading toward Roslindale—but developers have shown little interest in two other, larger MBTA-owned sites.
Doherty said he suggested that a local advisory committee of about 10 to 12 people be convened to meet monthly with project coordinators as plans move forward. “We will even take some of the hits,” for the state when community members express discomfort and displeasure in what is likely to be a tough few years, he said.
While the overpass itself runs east-west, the roadway it carries, Route 203, which coincides with the Arborway, is a north-south road. Northbound, it heads past the Arnold Arboretum toward Jamaica Pond. Southbound, it coincides with Morton Street south of Franklin Park.