Overpass team narrows choices

October 7, 2011
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Funding fears addressed

FOREST HILLS—State planners in charge of the Casey Overpass replacement project have narrowed the field to two choices from the four presented to the community in July at a Working Advisory Group (WAG) meeting last week.

A single-bridge alternative and a surface street-only alternative will be subjected to in-depth studies to determine which will become the future of the Forest Hills area.

The two discarded alternatives included a variation of the surface street design and a twin-bridge alternative that would include a multi-use path on the bridge.

City and state officials also addressed the fact that the project could lose construction funding if the Surface Transportation Bill is not approved in the U.S. Congress.

“There’s nothing anybody can do except write your congressman” to support the Surface Transportation Bill, said John Romano, the city liaison for the project.

Meanwhile, the two remaining alternatives will now be studied for traffic effects and livability and mobility criteria, then measured against over 20 measures of evaluation created by the WAG earlier in the process to decide which will be chosen for construction.

The proposed at-grade alternative would not allow left-hand turns at the South and Washington streets crossings. After the lights, U-turn lanes would be cut into a wide median, allowing for a change in traffic direction and right-hand turns onto Washington and South streets instead.

The single-bridge alternative would not include a pedestrian and bike-only lane, unlike the discarded twin-bridge concept, though bikes would still be allowed to share the road with cars.

“It does not make sense” to include a multi-use path, considering the level of accessibility on the ground in both options, said project co-manager Paul King. Both remaining options include on-street bike lanes and off-street, non-pedestrian bike paths.

WAG member Jeff Ferris has been a vocal supporter of multi-use paths on bridge options, citing federal recommendations. Eighty-five percent of WAG respondents to a July survey said they “almost never” bike or walk across the overpass.

State Rep. Russell Holmes, a regular attendee at Working Advisory Group (WAG) meetings, stated his preference for the bridge option because of its importance to regional traffic.

“We’ve addressed almost all the local issues. Let’s remember it’s a regional bridge,” Holmes said. “We have folks who are local making decisions for regional folks who travel over the bridge.”

Holmes also requested that community meetings be held in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan, areas that are the source of much of the Casey’s regional traffic.

Steve McLaughlin, Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation’s (MassDOT) co-project manager, said that the project planning will continue even if the Surface Transportation Bill is not approved in Congress.

The Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP), which is funding the Casey project, is funded with both federal and state dollars. The Casey project is funded strictly from state funds, which are not in jeopardy.

But if federal funding to the ABP is cut as a result of the bill not being approved, there might be greater competition for state funds.

If ABP funds are not available, McLaughlin said, the design team would look for alternate sources of funds.

“Other sources of funding may become available. This project would need to be shovel-ready” to qualify, McLaughlin said at the meeting, encouraging the continuation of the process.

The design team expects to have a final design selected by mid-December. The design would be completed by July 2013 and construction is scheduled to be completed by October 2016.

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 too expensive to maintain and is now due for replacement.

For more information, see www.massdot.state.ma.us/caseyoverpass.

 

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