Overpass team preps four plans

August 12, 2011
By

FOREST HILLS—State planners are drawing up four alternatives to replace the Casey Overpass—two with a bridge and two with surface streets only—in advance of a September community meeting.

The bridge options include a single bridge and parallel twin bridges. The surface street options both feature wide, tree-lined medians in varying amounts. The options were presented at the July 27 meeting of the working advisory group (WAG) that is reviewing the project.

The Casey Overpass is the Route 203/Arborway bridge over Washington and South streets at the Forest Hills T Station. The state plans to demolish the decaying bridge and replace it with either a new bridge or improved surface streets.

Reviewing the pros and cons of the draft alternative plans, the WAG relied on state claims that all versions would handle current and projected future traffic about the same. Regional traffic modeling has not yet been done, officials said.

How can surface streets work the same as an overpass? Traffic may zip across a bridge, but it soon runs into a traffic light or rotary anyway, officials noted. That averages out the traffic movement time through the area.

WAG member Jeffrey Ferris launched a debate about the project’s undetermined budget, noting that some parts of the plan might not be feasible.

At the previous WAG meeting, state officials wowed the group with redesigns of Shea Circle, the rotary at the eastern end of the overpass, saying they could work with any option. But, project co-manager Paul King acknowledged to Ferris, that redesign might be affordable only with the surface-street replacement option, which would generally be cheaper.

State officials said there is no specific budget for the project, but that any option would cost more than $28 million and likely no more than $53 million. They emphasized that they can’t be more specific until they have a plan.

“We’re actually doing a real planning process,” said state Department of Transportation liaison John Romano. “Sometimes you don’t have all the answers at the beginning.”

WAG member Michael Halle praised the process of brainstorming before budgeting as logical.

There was some dispute about whether a replacement bridge should have sidewalks, as most pedestrians would be at ground level. Bridge fencing was another issue, with WAG member Don Eunson suggesting that people might throw objects off a bridge, requiring fencing. King said that the state increasingly is adding snow fences to bridges to prevent snowplows from knocking ice onto traffic below, and that element might be added to any new bridge here.

WAG members requested illustrations of attractive bridges from other places, and of areas that were improved by removing highways. WAG member Michael Epp suggested that a new bridge have “romantic” pillars shaped something like trees to echo the “Arborway” theme.

“This is Forest Hills…They call it that for a reason,” said WAG member Dave Hannon in agreement. “Whatever we design should reflect that.”

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