Overpass decision is delayed

Activists debate options

Supporters of two different futures for the Forest Hills area are mobilizing in the wake of the state’s postponement of its decision about the Casey Overpass replacement.

Originally scheduled for this week, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) announcement of the replacement plan for the failing Casey Overpass has been postponed until mid-January.

The at-grade option would expand the surface street network to six lanes on New Washington Street and increase the area of the Southwest Corridor Park. A replacement bridge would be shorter, smaller and narrower than the existing overpass and would keep regional traffic off surface streets.

The Boston Cyclists Union, supporters of a surface street-only option, created a video and organized a Dec. 9 demonstration on New Washington Street.

Supporters of a new, smaller replacement bridge are not to be outdone. They have handed out flyers, made signs and created a website, rebuildcasey.com.

“There has been a misconception recently on where the majority of people in Jamaica Plain stand on this,” said Boston Cyclists Union Executive Director Pete Stidman. “The bridge supporters have been really good about calling the elected officials, but we know that the majority supports an at-grade plan, and we’re trying to illustrate that.”

“You’re trying to tell us that you can put 12 ounces in a 6-ounce cup,” state Rep. Liz Malia said, speaking of traffic projections for the at-grade option, which would have some 36,000 vehicles per day flowing through Forest Hills streets. “If we don’t believe you, we’re bad policy people, against bike riders. I don’t think that’s a good way to conduct the public process.”

The Casey project’s design team has stated numerous times that either alternative will be able to cope with projected 2035 levels of traffic better than the current street network.

The pro-surface-street demonstration on Dec. 9 had 26 volunteers holding signs through the evening that pitched the benefits proposed by the design team: an extended Southwest Corridor Park, and the possibility of greater pedestrian and bicycle traffic through the area.

The “Rebuild the Casey Overpass” website, prepared by Jeffrey Ferris, asks viewers to challenge costs, the traffic analysis and the assumption that bridges are ugly barriers, among other points.

“A new, modern bridge would allow a simpler, reduced traffic surface street that would help reconnect the area divided by the 1950s Casey Overpass,” the website states.

Stidman told the Gazette that 50 passersby signed a petition to support the at-grade alternative, and only a “handful said they wanted to keep the bridge.”

The official state website for the Casey Overpass replacement project, meanwhile, recently included—then abruptly yanked—a link to a video made by supporters of the surface street option amid complaints of partisanship.

“DOT has lost any semblance of objectivity or professionalism,” said Malia, who informed the Gazette of the link last week. “There’s not a hint of objectivity here.”

The site did not feature any links or other references to pro-bridge supporters. Some advocates have accused MassDOT of being biased in favor of the at-grade, option throughout the planning process.

“This video [link] was put up in error,” said MassDOT spokesperson Michael Verseckes. “It was not produced or sanctioned by MassDOT and is therefore not appropriate to be featured on the MassDOT website.”

The link was to a video by the Boston Cyclists Union. “Visit the Boston Cyclists Union’s YouTube Channel for a video explaining the benefits of the at-grade option for the Casey Overpass Replacement,” the state site said in introducing the link.

The Casey Overpass is the State Route 203 bridge over Washington Street and Hyde Park Avenue at the Forest Hills T Station. The aging bridge must be demolished in coming years.

The state Casey Overpass project website is at massdot.state.ma.us/caseyoverpass.

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