Overpass replacement plan will happen fast

John Ruch

Gazette Photo by John Ruch
The Casey Overpass where it runs over the Forest Hills T Station..

Smaller bridge, surface road possible

The Casey Overpass will be demolished in 2013, and whatever will replace it will be planned in a whirlwind process over the next six months, officials said on March 16 at the unpublicized first meeting of a resident “working advisory group” for the project.

There will be three basic possibilities for the overpass, the four-lane section of State Route 203 that runs above the Forest Hills T Station: a new bridge; some kind of new surface roads instead of a bridge; or a combination of the two. A Big Dig-style tunnel is off the table, Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) officials made clear.

The decision will be made through a series of public meetings with detailed information, MassDOT officials promised. But the secret first meeting of the working group—whose membership MassDOT still has not released—drew complaints from residents and local state Rep. Liz Malia.

“[MassDOT officials] seem to be coming at this like, ‘The community’s the enemy. Tell them as little as possible and we’ll tell them the solution,’” Malia later told the Gazette.

From comments at the meeting, held at the State Lab, it appeared that MassDOT is enthusiastic about the surface road option, while residents are more interested in a new bridge. Malia later said that she believes MassDOT has a “bias” toward the surface road option. MassDOT spokesperson Adam Hurtubise did not return a Gazette phone call for response to that claim.

Whatever the new roadway looks like, it does not need to be four lanes, MassDOT officials said. The Casey Overpass is currently restricted to two lanes due to its crumbling condition and is handling its traffic load just fine. So replacement options could include a much slimmer bridge or narrower surface road.

“The bridge is safe,” said Steve McLaughlin, MassDOT’s co-project manager. But it needs continual repairs due to design flaws, officials said, and would be cheaper to replace. MassDOT is in a hurry to get a plan in place, because special state bridge-replacement funding runs out in 2016.

The current schedule includes: coming up with a replacement concept by October; designing the plan from then into 2013; then demolishing the overpass and building the replacement by June 2016.

That could mean up to three years of construction and related traffic re-routing—a major neighborhood concern. Traffic management will be discussed in detail once a replacement concept is in place.

The project has no specific budget yet and is drawing on a $1 billion state bridge fund. McLaughlin said that very roughly, building a new bridge could cost $70 million and building a new surface road could cost $30 million.

The working group has members from about 20 area organizations and public officials. It will give detailed advice on the replacement options. The general public can attending working group sessions, but will have little or no chance to speak. That is because the group is already representing the community and is focusing on nuts-and-bolts details.

Full community meetings will be held between sessions to report on the working group’s ideas and get general public comments. The full meetings also will feature displays of detailed information and a chance for anyone to talk directly with all of the planning officials.

All of the meetings will be open to the public. But MassDOT gave no public notice about the first working group meeting or about the group’s membership. It appears that MassDOT is still tweaking the member list, and spokesperson Hurtubise said he could not provide any version of the list, including who was invited to the first meeting. It is unclear who chose the group members and how.

Organizations represented at the first meeting included: the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council; neighborhood associations in the Stonybrook and Asticou/Martinwood streets areas; JP Centre/South Main Streets; the JP Traffic and Parking Committee; the West Roxbury District Court; Emerald Necklace Conservancy; the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition; Boston Center for Independent Living; and the Boston Natural Areas Network. The offices of Rep. Malia and City Councilor Matt O’Malley will also have seats.

The lack of publicity drew criticism from Malia, who notified many residents and engaged in a long, intense discussion with MassDOT officials after the meeting. More than a dozen members of the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association showed up to express concern about public input.

Representation on the working group was also a concern, though MassDOT officials want to keep it relatively small and focused. The Boston Cyclists Union on behalf of JP Bikes was among the organizations seeking seats at the table.

The first full community meeting will be held April 6, and the next working group session is April 20. (See JP Agenda.) MassDOT is also posting detailed information about the project at Mass.gov/massdot/caseyoverpass.

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