BTD chief: Mayor won’t oppose Casey plan, backs process

FOREST HILLS—Mayor Thomas Menino will not oppose the Casey Arborway plan despite a petition calling for him to do so, and he backs the state’s ongoing planning process, the City’s transportation commissioner told the Gazette today.

“I know folks want the mayor to come in and say, ‘Hey, I absolutely support [the Casey Arborway]’ or ‘I absolutely don’t,’” said Boston Transportation Department Commissioner Thomas Tinlin, explaining that Menino will not advocate that way. Instead, Menino is backing the state’s planning process about a roadway it controls, and he is mostly concerned with minimizing construction impacts, Tinlin said.

“The process has been inclusive. It’s been robust. It’s been transparent,” Tinlin said of the meetings run by the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT). “We’re comfortable with the process now.”

Tinlin generally spoke highly of MassDOT’s plan to replace the Casey Overpass with surface streets, and said there is no evidence that it will become the traffic nightmare feared by critics.

“Quality of life will be better” with the Casey Arborway, Tinlin said, adding that it generally meets the City’s “Complete Streets” guidelines for making streets friendly to all users. “This is one of those unique opportunities in time.”

Tinlin was responding to a petition post card effort by the group Bridging Forest Hills, which unsuccessfully advocated earlier this year for MassDOT to replace the decaying overpass with a new bridge. The group is now calling on Menino to pressure MassDOT to start the 19-month-old planning over with a bridge proposal.

The group thought that it might get Menino’s support based on comments he made to the Gazette earlier this year following MassDOT’s Casey replacement decision, where he said he would have preferred a new bridge and warned that construction could be a “second Big Dig.”

Tinlin responded after the Gazette contacted the Mayor’s Office for comment about the petition. Menino is currently hospitalized with an illness.

Tinlin said that Menino never intended to advocate politically for any particular Casey plan. Instead, Menino wanted there to be a good, open process where advocates of both plans could be heard before MassDOT made its decision.

“One thing the mayor prides himself on is allowing the community to speak,” Tinlin said, adding that he heard “passion on both sides of this.”

“We had hundreds of letters in support of the surface option, and probably a hundred letters in opposition,” he said. The mayor has received about 20 of Bridging Forest Hills’ post cards so far, he added.

Tinlin said that in these sorts of decisions, “somebody’s always left feeling wronged” and that “change is scary.”

“One thing [we] hate to see is neighbors pitted against neighbors,” he said, explaining that the City is focused on their common ground. “They all share the common goal of ensuring their neighborhood is protected.”

The City wants to “protect” everyone as well, particularly from Casey Arborway construction impacts, Tinlin said. Big concerns are impacts on local businesses, MBTA bus schedules and general traffic, he said. He noted that Menino previously wrote a letter to MassDOT about those concerns.

“The mayor has put us on notice here…saying, ‘We’re not going to cripple the area” with construction, Tinlin said. He added that the City believes that can be avoided.

“[We] hate to make the comparison, though the mayor has done it, to the Big Dig,” Tinlin said. “I think…it can be managed appropriately.”

Asked whether the mayor’s Casey Arborway concerns are primarily about construction rather than the final product, Tinlin said, “Yeah, I think that’s fair.”

City officials have attended all of the Casey planning meetings and are taking all of its elements seriously, Tinlin said.

“Frankly, there are some things with the design that give us some concern,” such as the use of large U-turns rather than left-hand turns, he said.

But in general, Tinlin praised the amenities of the Casey Arborway plan and countered the claims of opponents that MassDOT has “bullied” the neighborhood and that the plan defies common sense.

Among the plan’s benefits are dedicated bicycle paths and new parkland that will have “the sun shining in an area that the sun hasn’t shined on in decades because of that span,” he said.

While critics say it is impossible to place traffic using the current overpass onto surface streets without causing gridlock, Tinlin said “the state and their consultants have done a good job” of demonstrating that a new street network in fact can handle the traffic well. He added that there have not been major traffic problems during many recent Casey repair-related closures and lane restrictions.

“We haven’t seen the ‘carmaggedon’ we’ve heard concerns about,” Tinlin said, adding that the City is still taking those concerns seriously.

Tinlin said that City officials are also aware that funding for the plan could disappear if there are planning delays.

“If we want to create something special, the time is now,” he said.

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