FOREST HILLS—The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) missed its own deadline this week for making the decision about the Casey Overpass replacement project. There is no new timeline for an announcement and MassDOT offered no explanation for the further delay.
“We’re still looking to make a decision soon,” MassDOT spokesperson Michael Verseckes told the Gazette this week.
MassDOT has also posted an air quality study and answers to frequent questions online about the Casey replacement project posed by elected officials and the community since mid-November.
“I sort of expected it,” Bridging Forest Hills and Working Advisory Group (WAG) member Jeffrey Ferris said about the decision delay. “We’re all kind of puzzled about what’s going on over there. Things aren’t working the way they [MassDOT] want it to work.”
“[MassDOT] is putting us on a roller coaster that no one should be on,” said WAG member Sarah Freeman, who supports the surface street option. “It would be nice for the public to understand what [information MassDOT] is still missing.”
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.
MassDOT Secretary Richard Davey said in a letter sent to state Rep. Liz Malia and U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano in February that a final decision should be reached by the end of the month. Verseckes confirmed that schedule to the Gazette at the time.
“My main function was to make sure the community had as much input as required,” Capuano told the Gazette of his involvement. “Let the neighborhood make the decision. I have no preferred alternative.”
In that same letter, Davey addresses many of the concerns voiced by those legislators and members of the community. A frequently asked questions (FAQ) document, along with an environmental justice study and an air quality study, have been added to the project’s website at massdot.state.ma.us/CaseyOverpass/documents.html.
The FAQ covers travel times and possible traffic delays and back-ups, accounting for future growth in the area and the reliability of the various traffic studies used in the project.
The environmental and air quality studies had been requested often as a means to decide between the bridge or at-grade alternative, especially by members of the Asticou Road area. Those studies were not expected until the planning stage of the final project.
Neither study found a significant difference between the alternatives. The air quality study found that “changes of air pollutions between the existing conditions and both build alternatives were minimal”—that is, neither bridge or at-grade option should cause a big change.
“I’d be very surprised if it is a cogent report,” said WAG member Bernard Doherty. Doherty has been advocating for an air traffic study for months, though he acknowledged he has not yet read the MassDOT report. “[MassDOT is] pushing things along here to push things along and not looking at the impact that this will bring to the community.”
Davey promised to incorporate suggestions provided by Stephen Kaiser of Cambridge and Paula Okunieff of JP’s South Street area, independent traffic engineers suggested by the community.
Kaiser wrote an independent review of the project and gave it to Malia last month. Okunieff also vetted the MassDOT data at Malia’s request, Okunieff told the Gazette.
“Steve and I got together once we realized DOT would take us seriously,” she said. “I wanted to ask the questions the community didn’t know how to ask.”
Okunieff said she focused on transit aspects of the proposed alternatives while Kaiser tackled traffic modeling. Okunieff is a intelligent transportation consultant at Consensus System Technologies.
“Both [proposed alternatives] are bad,” Okunieff said.
“They don’t serve transit and they don’t serve pedestrians. At least the bridge option gives us a future possibility to improve for pedestrians…But they just didn’t put in the work” to make that alternative feasible, she continued. “I think they need to start from square one.”
MassDOT has stated that either alternative will handle 2035 levels of traffic better than the current street network functions today.
Davey also committed to conducting a peer review of MassDOT’s traffic analysis by an independent traffic consultant as well as filing an Environmental Notification Form (ENF) before the 25 percent design community meeting.
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.
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.