FOREST HILLS—Opponents of the Casey Arborway plan are turning out in greater numbers, though they are no closer to overturning the state’s decision, according to key elected officials.
Despite the vocal opposition, local elected officials, including state reps. Russell Holmes and Liz Malia, who are critical of the at-grade plan, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino have stated that the state Department of Transportation’s (MassDOT) decision is final.
“The bridge is not going to be rebuilt,” Holmes told the Gazette last week. “From my perspective, we advocated and lost this decision a year ago. [But] I’m still going to be there to hear all sides.”
At a public hearing held Feb. 27 at English High School at 144 McBride St., twice as many opponents of the state’s at-grade surface street design spoke in support of a smaller replacement bridge for the aging Casey Overpass as did supporters of the at-grade plan. Thirty-three people spoke against the at-grade plan while 17 spoke in its support.
The opposition, led by local group Bridging Forest Hills, claims that MassDOT’s process has been faulty from the start and that the possibility for a smaller replacement bridge was never properly studied. It is asking for the process to be re-started in favor of a bridge design.
Members of the design team as well Holmes reminded members of the community that MassDOT made that decision a year ago.
“We have made our decision,” Project Manager Steve McLaughlin said at the end of the three-hour hearing. “We appreciate your comments on this [at-grade] design.”
At the meeting, Holmes encouraged community members to continue to comment to MassDOT and the Governor’s Office, but said that members of the state Senate and House of Representatives are not able to influence the decision in any way.
A spokesperson from Gov. Deval Patrick’s office told the Gazette that “MassDOT speaks on behalf of the administration” in regards to this project.
MassDOT spokesperson Michael Verseckes confirmed to the Gazette this week that the agency’s decision is final.
“We’re fundamentally committed to the at-grade project,” he said. “We acknowledge that some folks don’t agree with the direction we’re heading in. That said, we have received a significant amount of feedback on this project and incorporating some of that feedback into the design is helping MassDOT to deliver a better finished product.”
“That’s been their position since the beginning,” state Rep. Liz Malia told the Gazette this week. “Once they started open discussions, they shut out people they didn’t want to hear. I think it’s a serious mistake to not listen to the questions people are bringing up.”
“The DOT telegraphed a long time ago that this deal was already cut. The only recourse left is to try and mitigate what people see as problems,” she added.
“Their engagement is great, but the state has made its decision,” state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez told the Gazette last week about Casey Arborway opponents. “Let’s make sure that we’re able to work together to mitigate impact of change.”
“I believe it’s always useful for residents to make their voices heard about the issues that matter to them. I know there are many smart, thoughtful citizen-activists involved on the pro-bridge campaign, and I can imagine their input will be useful to MassDOT as the design process continues,” state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz told the Gazette this week.
Menino previously said that while he would have preferred a replacement bridge, the state has authority over the project.
“I don’t run it,” he said last June.
Boston Transportation Department Commissioner Thomas Tinlin told the Gazette last November that Menino will not oppose the Casey Arborway plan, despite a Bridging Forest Hills petition calling for him to do so, and supports the community planning process.
MassDOT made the controversial decision to go forward with a new surface street network instead of a smaller replacement bridge in the Casey Overpass Replacement Project last March, after over a year of community advisory meetings.
Despite that fact, many members of the audience were unaware that MassDOT’s decision is final.
JP resident Robin Maxfield stated at the meeting, “It’s unclear whether this is a done deal”—that is, whether MassDOT’s decision can be changed in favor of a bridge.
Another commenter asked what the process is for getting a bridge.
The community meeting’s goal was to inform the community of the project’s status and plans, and MassDOT representatives did not present new information.
Bridging Forest Hills distributed large maps of the proposed bridge alternative, originally created by the state design team, annotated with the group’s thoughts on why it’s a better option. Supporters of the at-grade plan also distributed a flyer with a simulated photo illustration of what the Southwest Corridor Park might look like after the project’s completion. Organizations listed on the supporters flyer include JP Bikes, Boston Cyclists Union, the Arborway Coalition, WalkBoston, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy and LivableStreets.
The project’s Design Advisory Group (DAG) is expected to have meetings this month and next to discuss construction. Those meetings have not yet been scheduled.
Planning for the design is expected to be completed by this fall and construction is expected to start early next year. The state Casey project website is massdot.state.ma.us/caseyoverpass.