Overpass group sets design goals

Rebeca Oliveira

The members of the Casey Overpass replacement project’s Working Advisory Group (WAG) began setting design goals at its April 20 meeting.

Despite earlier concerns that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has already decided on a replacement, WAG members were asked to come up with specific ideas on how to create an overpass replacement that would meet all the neighborhood’s concerns.

These ideas are meant to address 10 goals distilled by the design team from community input, which broke down into four mobility-related and six livability-related goals.

“This [project] is going to be the product of your effort. You are part of our team,” said Andrea D’Amato, part of the design team.

The Monsignor William J. Casey Overpass is the elevated section of Route 203 over Washington and South Streets, next to the Forest Hills MBTA Station. Built in the 1950s, it has become prohibitively expensive to maintain and is now due for replacement. MassDOT says the overpass is still safe to use.

The WAG consists of residents and elected officials and has members representing about 25 area organizations.

WAG members were also given a homework assignment to complete before the next WAG meeting on May 4: to note on a map the three most important connections at Forest Hills, no matter what they connect—bikes to buses, pedestrians to the T, or frequently-used car routes.

“It’s an important assignment for getting your priorities into our design,” D’Amato said.

Members of the design team also presented theoretical scenarios, with and without a bridge, to get the WAG members thinking about options. If a replacement bridge is installed, it would not need to be as wide or as tall as the current overpass, significantly reducing its profile.

The current overpass is 80 feet wide and about three stories tall at its peak. The theoretical bridge presented could be as short as two stories and as narrow as 54 feet.

Another proposed scenario had no bridge at all and relied completely on surface roads—the main road could have as many as eight lanes and as few as four, depending on design choices the WAG is helping to make.

The key to the final option will be the layout of the surface roads, as any bridge would have to be designed to coordinate with that traffic.

The design team is taking cues from Emerald Necklace designer Frederick Law Olmsted and, no matter the final design, planning to incorporate tree-lined streets and separate access for different modes of travel, like dedicated bike paths and separate pedestrian walks.

“Forest Hills is a place people want to get away from, not go to,” WAG member Kevin Wolfson said, noting that the design team should work to change that fact.

The design team’s mobility-oriented goals were: improve street layout to balance circulation for all modes of transportation; strengthen local and regional connections; improve access and intermodal connections to promote transportation choices, making it easier to switch modes of transportation; and integrate sustainability principles into the design—things like solar-powered illumination and efficient storm water management.

The livability goals were: remove barriers for neighborhood connections and circulation; enhance the human connections and create a sense of community place; integrate transit with economic and residential areas; celebrate the area’s architectural, historic transportation and landscape features; improve the visibility, connectivity and access to gateway open spaces like the Southwest Corridor Park, Franklin Park, Arnold Arboretum and Forest Hills Cemetery; and enhance the quality of life in residential areas.

After the 10 goals were presented to the room, WAG members broke out into smaller groups to brainstorm specific and measurable ideas for them. Each small group drew a random two goals.

Some of the ideas presented included: re-routing buses that stop at Forest Hills’s upper busway to improve traffic flow; pedestrian crossing lights that count down; art installations; and inserting traffic-calming measures to force vehicular traffic to slow down.

These theoritical options—with and without an overpass—were used to explain how each would reflect the guiding principles of the project.

The four guiding principles for the project, as presented by D’Amato, are: replacing the deficient bridge; protecting and respecting the design for the Arborway Yard; improving safety for all users of the area; and developing alternatives that meet the Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP) budget and criteria.

The Arborway Yard, located at the intersection of Washington Street and Route 203, has been subject to a controversial 13-year community design process, which is currently only waiting for funding to proceed. The MBTA recently voted to exclude funding for this project from next year’s budget.

The ABP is a $3 billion initiative by Gov. deval Patrick to greatly reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges in the state, while creating construction jobs.

In response to a resident’s question, the design team said that while it is possible that they might have to take over adjoining land to complete the design, it is an unlikely outcome.

“If we need to do that, we will, but we try to not do that,” McLaughlin said.

“It’s not our goal,” John Romano, municipal affairs liaison for the project, added.

While originally planned for one meeting, the design team decided to split the agenda into two meetings, with the second dedicated entirely to traffic issues. The second meeting will take place May 4 at the State Labs building on South Street.

Two new members were announced at the meeting, Kevin Moloney, representing the Arborway Committee, and Wendy Williams, representing the Arborway Gardens.

David Hannon, the representative from Asticou/Martinwood/South St. Neighborhood Association, noted early in the meeting that the WAG currently does not have representatives for the Forest Hills or Woodbourne neighborhoods.

The next community meeting for the Casey Overpass replacement project will take place on May 18. [See JP Agenda.] Questions and comments will be welcome at that meeting. Agendas and further details for all meetings are posted online, along with project notes and presentations, at www.massdot.state.ma.us/caseyoverpass.

The current project 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. The project must be completed by June 30, 2016 in order to qualify for the special ABP bridge-replacement funds.

Public input is welcome. Romano can be reached at [email protected] or 973-7028. King can be reached at [email protected] or 973-8137.

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