Pro-bridge group asks mayor to reboot Casey project

November 9, 2012
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FOREST HILLS—Bridging Forest Hills, the group that advocated unsuccessfully earlier this year for the Casey Overpass to be replaced by a new bridge instead of new surface streets, is circulating a petition to Mayor Thomas Menino that asks him to pressure the state to go “back to the drawing board.”

“Please, Mr. Mayor, help stop this bullying of JP’s citizens by MassDOT. We don’t want a congested, polluting traffic nightmare rammed through Forest Hills,” reads part of the petition, which is in the form of pre-printed post cards addressed to Menino.

The group also recently issued colorful posters promoting its cause, which began appearing last week on Centre Street storefronts. And some of its members showed up at last week’s Casey design meeting to vocally protest the process and hand out paper fans bearing the group’s logo.

“I think elected public officials need to become aware that a lot of people, if not a majority of people, once they hear about [the Casey replacement plan], are opposed to the plan,” said Kevin Moloney, who is a member of Bridging Forest Hills as well as a member of the official Design Advisory Group advising the state Department of Transportation about the plan.

“What Bridging Forest Hills is doing is extremely dangerous for the neighborhood and for the future of a bridge that is falling apart,” said Pete Stidman, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union, a supporter of MassDOT’s surface-street plan. He noted that starting over now would mean the project would lose its current funding and face a wait of many years for new funding.

MassDOT plans to demolish the aging Casey Overpass, the State Route 203/Arborway bridge over Washington Street at the Forest Hills T Station. A community process about replacement options and a final design began in March 2011 and is ongoing. After months of meetings and divided community opinion, MassDOT rejected the alternative of a new bridge and instead opted for new surface streets and parkland, a project now called the Casey Arborway. Supporters say it will be more attractive, better for pedestrians and bicyclists, and restore the Arborway to its intended green uses. Critics say that traffic now passing over the area on the bridge will jam up the surface streets, despite MassDOT’s new configurations and traffic models that say otherwise.

Bridging Forest Hills was active in the community debate through the Casey Arborway announcement last March, but has been largely invisible to the public since then. But, Moloney said, it has continued meeting regularly and has grown, particular as concerns about the impact of the plan on MBTA bus service has increased. About 15 to 20 active members meet regularly, he said.

The petition post card begins by saying Menino “share[s] our concern about eliminating the Casey Overpass.” That apparently refers to Menino’s interview with the Gazette earlier this year, when he said he would have preferred a new bridge alternative and warned that the construction could be a “second Big Dig.”

Moloney noted that Menino has had City officials regularly attended the Casey Arborway planning meetings and made those comments to the Gazette. The intent of the petition is to get the mayor to go further and “take a leadership role” in pressing MassDOT to reboot the planning process.

Stidman pointed out that the City officials actively participate in the Casey Arborway planning with no sign of Menino wanting to halt the process. He said he has spoken with Menino about the project and gets the sense that the mayor “wishes we were getting something more fantastic than we’re getting,” but that he understands the funding and timing realities and is supportive of the current plan.

“I think it’s important for people to recognize this [Casey Arborway plan] is a major investment in Jamaica Plain and we shouldn’t be trifling with that chance,” Stidman said.

The petition post cards are being circulated by volunteers around the neighborhood. They can be mailed by the signer, or Bridging Forest Hills will mail them on the signer’s behalf. Moloney said he does not know when the group will mail in its post cards, but said, “It’s going to happen soon.”

He said the group’s website, bridgingforesthills.com, soon will be updated with information about the petition.

The full text of the petition post card is as follows:

“Dear Mayor Menino:

“I am glad that you share our concern about eliminating the Casey Overpass. Substituting a 6-lane, street-level highway at Forest Hills will have a devastating impact on Jamaica Plain.

“We challenge the Mass. Dept. of Transportation’s hurried decision to remove rather than replace the Casey Overpass:

“Route 203 is the main East-West route to the Longwood Medical Area, Fenway Park, and college neighborhoods. The street-level plan will cause more congestion for everyone! JP Deserves HONESTY.

“Use the money to build a Beautiful Bridge! JP Deserves GOOD DESIGN.

“JP Deserves TO BE HEARD.

“Please, Mr. Mayor, help stop this bullying of JP’s citizens by MassDOT. We don’t want a congested, polluting traffic nightmare rammed through Forest Hills. As our neighbor, we known you don’t either.

“Send MassDOT back to the drawing board!

“We want real options that include plans for a well-designed bridge.”

A Bridging Forest Hills poster hangs in the window of Classic Cleaners at Centre and Green streets last week. (Gazette Photo by Rebeca Oliveira)

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