Overpass replacement process to start this month

March 4, 2011
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Gazette Photo by Rebeca Oliveira
Traffic is forced to avoid a lane closed due to crumbling conditions on the Casey Overpass, which is scheduled for demolition in 2012.

MassDOT to present post-demo alternatives soon

FOREST HILLS STATION AREA—Months after the Gazette first reported that the Casey Overpass is scheduled for demolition and possible replacement in 2012, Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) officials plan to start a community process in March.

As of last week, MassDOT officials said they had not scheduled the first meeting.

The replacement of the 57-year-old obtrusive, high-volume roadway that connects the Arborway over the Forest Hills Station could have a major impact on prospects for the long-stalled redevelopment of the area.

Due to structural deterioration, two of the roadway’s four lanes are currently closed.

MassDOT officials previously told the Gazette that the overpass has reached the end of its useful life and that they had still not determined if they plan to replace the overpass or reconfigured surface roads through the area. In an e-mail to the Gazette last week, MassDOT spokesperson Richard Nangle said MassDOT plans to present a “study of alternatives” for the post-demolition future, but he did not respond to Gazette requests for details about what those alternatives would be.

Whatever happens, it will be done by 2016, he said.

Details Nangle was able to provide the Gazette about the imminent community process include that “the working advisory group will study and evaluate safe, accessible, multi-modal landscape, streetscape and transportation options,” suggesting that the design alternatives MassDOT plans to present could include green space, bike lanes and sidewalks. Currently, the overpass is all concrete and only accessible by car.

Previously, local residents have told the Gazette their concerns concerns about the overpass project include questions about what the traffic impact of possibly removing the overpass would be and whether a new design, including an overpass or not, could serve as a better connector for the Emerald Necklace string of parks that runs along the Arborway.

Neighborhood activist Bernie Doherty previously told the Gazette that he thinks an active community working group could help ease tensions that are likely to arise as the state undertakes a massive infrastructure project in a densely populated area.

In comments at the Feb. 15 State of JP forum at English High School, state Rep. Liz Malia said she and state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, who also attended the forum, have been encouraging MassDOT to meet with the community. They have been “a little wary of community process,” she said. “We have been telling them they don’t need to be afraid of the community—[that] if they bite, they don’t leave wounds.”

Malia described the demolition and possible replacement of the overpass in sweeping terms. The redevelopment of the Forest Hills Station Area is “the final piece of discussion around transit oriented development and environmental justice” regarding the redevelopment of neighborhoods along the Southwest Corridor Park, she said.

That was a reference to the redevelopment of parcels along the Southwest Corridor following the foiling—through community protest in the late 1960s—of a plan to build an extension of Interstate 95 through the city on the land the corridor park and Orange Line now occupy.

Redevelopment projects in the Jackson Square and Green Street station areas currently under way are the result of the state selling off surplus land from that failed interstate expansion attempt.

The MBTA eventually plans to sell over 14 acres of land it owns in the station area. So far, local developers WCI Corp successfully bid on a small portion of that land and have not begun construction on its proposed retail and office building development project.

Also, plans—over a decade in the making—to redevelop the Arborway Yard bus facility on the corner of Washington Street and the Arborway on the Franklin Park side of the station recently received final approval, but have not been funded in the MBTA’s long-term capital budget.

Some community activists have expressed fears that the Arborway Yard redevelopment project could be put on hold if the state needs the Arborway Yard as a staging area for the Casey demolition project. Nangle told the Gazette that, “There is no intention to alter or impact the plans for development” of the Arborway Yard.

While many have pointed to the economic downturn as a major culprit in the Forest Hills’s redevelopment stall-out, Malia previously told the Gazette that a successful overpass replacement plan would almost certainly be a game-changer for the area—either spurring development if it is done well, or hindering it if it is done poorly.

At the forum, community resident Joyce Perkit expressed the same idea in negative terms. Suggesting that the results of multi-year city-run community processes about the redevelopment plans could be in peril, she said that the resources poured into those processes could go “down the drain.”

Perkit suggested that Malia and other elected officials hold MassDOT’s “feet to the fire…remind them about the Southwest Corridor [protests]…diplomatically.”

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