FOREST HILLS—As the decision for the future of the Casey Overpass lingers in limbo with no announcement date set, community members push for various options.
A new group, Bridging Forest Hills (BFH), consisting of community members and Working Advisory Group (WAG) members, has formed to “share our opinion that neither option presented thus far is good enough,” WAG and BFH member Liz Wylie told the Gazette.
A flyer BFH representative Jeffrey Ferris handed out during last week’s State of Our Neighborhood Forum has already stirred up controversy as “fear-mongering” for some incorrect facts.
“The intention was to educate people about the depth of issues and raise serious questions about the process,” Wylie said early this week.
The future of the Casey Overpass and adjoining Forest Hills area will hinge on whether the soon-to-be retired Casey Overpass will be replaced by a new, smaller bridge, or by surface streets alone.
The decision announcement was originally scheduled for mid-December. It was postponed to mid-January after elected officials, led by state Rep. Liz Malia, requested a delay in the decision amid community controversy. The decision announcement has not yet been rescheduled.
Also during last week’s State of Our Neighborhood Forum, City Councilor Matt O’Malley addressed City Hall’s lack of a stated position on the project.
“The position is, there is no official position” favoring either pro-bridge or pro-surface streets, O’Malley said. “It’s a state project, not a city project,” he said, even though it will severely alter city streets.
A Gazette call to the Boston Transportation Department was not returned.
“It’s kind of crazy our elected officials haven’t taken a stance on this,” Ferris said.
Other neighborhood groups, including the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, Walk Boston and Boston Police JP Traffic and Parking Committee have expressed their desire for traffic calming measures during the project’s construction in a letter to Boston Transportation Department Commissioner Thomas Tinlin.
The Jamaica Plain Business and Professional Association (JP BAPA) was considering voting on an official position—pro-bridge or pre-at-grade—after the Gazette’s deadline this week.
During the State of Our Neighborhood Forum, Ferris handed out flyers promoting bridgingforesthills.com. The data mentioned on that flyer was already causing concern by the evening’s end, with WAG member Sarah Freeman calling it “fear-mongering.”
The flyer says that 165,000 people live in the Forest Hills area, “25 percent of Boston’s population.” It also says that 700 new units of housing are expected to be built in the area. But neither claim is true.
Boston has 617,594 residents, according to the last census. JP has 37,468. According to a BRA fact sheet presented to the community on May 18, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is expecting 310 to 390 new housing units by be built in the Forest Hills area by 2035.
The Gazette asked Ferris about these numbers this week. He said BFH put the flyer together as a group and he did not personally know the source of those numbers. He did say that the 165,000-resident figure was a mistake.
“No one’s trying to pass that over on anybody. That [mistake] got missed,” he said. What the group meant to say was that 165,000 people pass through the Forest Hills area, Ferris said this week.
“Whether it’s 300 or 700 [new housing units], in my mind, is irrelevant. It needs to work for the people who live there,” Ferris said. “Making transit work optimally was not [the state’s] ultimate goal. We need better than OK at Forest Hills.”
Other points stated on BFH’s flyer have also been contested.
It lists concerns over “three times the traffic and congestion” to New Washington Street. The figure refers to the 24,000 vehicles that travel over the Casey daily, which are expected to join the 12,000 that travel over New Washington Street if the at-grade option is chosen.
Aaron Naparstek, a transportation activist and blogger said at a January event organized by the Boston Cyclists Union, JP Bikes and LivableStreets Alliance at the Connolly Library that he does not expect traffic to increase as much as MassDOT predicts, offsetting concerns over higher levels of car exhaust.
“If there are 24,000 cars using that overpass, I’ll gnaw off my own arm if 24,000 cars move to the surface street,” he said, referring to a theory that postulates that traffic moves away from surface streets with lower speed limits toward other higher-speed alternatives.
The flyer also says that “backroom MassDOT traffic models predict gridlock.”
There have been no traffic models that have not already been presented to the WAG and the community, MassDOT spokesperson Michael Verseckes told the Gazette.
MassDOT and its design team have repeatedly said that either alternative will handle 2035 levels of traffic better than the current street plan does now.
“It should be an attractive place to live. Living in the middle of a traffic jam is not attractive,” Ferris said.
“Change is scary. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like with no bridge,” Freeman said.
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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