JP Observer: The Arborway Yard: When ‘temporary’ has lasted too long

October 26, 2012
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The MBTA placed a legal notice in the Boston Herald in 1998 looking for bids on construction of a transportation facility on 17 acres in Forest Hills. Local elected officials and the community members were shocked to see their plans showed a monolithic building covering the entire area with a garage for 186 buses, a maintenance facility and surface parking for over 500 cars.

After 14 years, nearly $30 million and tens of thousands of volunteer hours (not to mention the number of trees consumed by renditions of plans), all JP has today is a sprawling outdoor “temporary facility” for maintaining and servicing buses surrounded by chain link fence on 17 acres whose creation sucked $30 million from funds to build the permanent one.

The sprawling facility at the Arborway and Washington Street, which was supposed to exist for only five years, is now nine years old. It was bestowed the dubious honor of being the only public property ever on Jamaica Plain’s Problems Properties list last year, partly for attracting dumping of debris.

After years of work among many constituencies, including MBTA and City officials, a 90 percent design was approved by all parties in early 2011. Unfortunately, the approximately $220 million needed to build it has not materialized. The MBTA did not allocate money in its capital budget last year, and it was recently announced that it did not win a federal transportation grant, either.

“We need to see movement showing that [the plan] is not dead,” Allan Ihrer said earlier this month. Ihrer is a member of the 13-year-old, officially sanctioned Community Planning Committee for the Arborway Yard (CPCAY) and lives nearby in the Stonybrook neighborhood.

He and recently returning member Jim Kilmurray talked about the reasons the facility should be funded in a conversation with the Gazette. Among the reasons that may not be obvious or may have been forgotten are: 8 acres that will have 160 units of housing and retail developed on it; a planned parkland buffer between the facility and the housing; the closing of Bartlett Yard in Dudley Square, which was polluting the neighborhood; and noise mitigations that will be done on the facility.

They pointed out that there is no real opposition to the new Arborway Yard. “The community has been so supportive,” Ihrer said. Among the community constituencies the CPCAY and the plans had to please over the years were abutters; transportation, housing and green space advocates; the Emerald Necklace Coalition; environmentalists; traffic planners; and the general JP neighborhood.

Ihrer went on to suggest that Massachusetts Department of Transportation could put the $20 million it saved by not rebuilding the Casey Overpass toward building the new facility. He also said that CPCAY, chaired by Henry Allen, hopes to persuade the new T General Manager Deborah Scott to fund the facility.

Given the extremely long time many JP community people have worked on this project, it’s amazing people like Ihrer have stuck with it so long. Asked what motivates him, Ihrer answered, laughing, “Everybody needs a hobby.”