Casey Arborway changes: Funding, busway, parking

As the Casey Arborway design nears a release for construction bids, the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is seeking new funding sources, redesigning a Forest Hills T Station busway, and planning permanent replacement parking at the Arborway Yard.

The crumbling Casey Overpass, which the Casey Arborway surface streets eventually will replace, underwent emergency repaving last weekend following complaints of cars being damaged on potholes. The work snarled traffic and reportedly will be the last such repaving before the overpass’s demolition, slated for next spring.

A final meeting of the project’s Design Advisory Group (DAG) will be scheduled for later this month, according to MassDOT. Construction bids are expected to go out by roughly mid-November.

Alternate funding

The Casey Arborway is being funded through the state’s Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP), dedicated to fixing crumbling bridges. MassDOT is now seeking alternate funding for parts of the project to free up ABP funds for other bridges, according to spokesperson Michael Verseckes.

The funding move is sparking confusion. State Rep. Liz Malia and Bernie Doherty, head of the Asticou-Martinwood-South Street Neighborhood Association, both told the Gazette that a MassDOT representative said that it turns out that ABP funds legally cannot be used on Casey project “mitigations” that don’t directly include the roadway, including T station work, at a Sept. 18 neighborhood association meeting.

“They did say that,” Malia said. “My recollection is, he said, ‘We’re not allowed to use Accelerated Bridge money [for mitigations].”

Verseckes said he could not explain what happened at the meeting, which he did not attend, but clearly stated to the Gazette, “Accelerated Bridge Program funding can be used for all aspects of this project.”

But, Verseckes said, MassDOT is going through a “fiscal exercise” of seeking alternate funds for mitigation work to free up ABP funds for other bridges. That funding could come from existing state road and bridge money, or from new allocations in the state transportation budget, he said. However, he could not specify amounts or programs, and Malia said that is troubling.

“How much money and which program are you taking it away from?” Malia asked, adding that she had not heard any discussion of such funding in the Legislature. She also expressed concerns about mitigations possibly going over budget with no clear funding sources to complete them.

Upper busway changes

The “upper busway,” or large bus stop area, along South Street at the T station has been redesigned several times to add a new stop for the relocated Route 39 bus and to block headlights that could shine into the Asticou-Martinwood neighborhood across the street.

A new design was released at the Sept. 18 neighborhood association meeting, which was not publicized. The design includes a large wall, topped by plantings, to block light.

It also reduces the number of bus “bays,” or passenger platforms, from three to two. A year ago, a third bay was added to the plan as supposedly necessary to handle the 39 bus. But, MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo told the Gazette, the current plan will work for the T.

“Bus Operations [staff] has examined, and approved, the design plan,” Pesaturo said in an email. “In fact, it’s the opinion of Bus Operations that the design is much improved over the three-platform layout” because of better pedestrian safety, better canopy coverage for passengers, and a more direct exit approach.

Despite having fewer bays, the design still takes up the same amount of space, including the elimination of some T station employee parking.

The total construction cost estimate—which Doherty complained was unclear at the meeting—is $7 million, according to Verseckes.

Doherty said many residents likely would approve of the redesign itself, but that there is confusion and concern over the funding and whether it actually will be built as planned or at all. He said residents requested another meeting, but that MassDOT declined.

The Route 39 is one of the T’s busiest bus lines and some community members have expressed concerns about service impacts of moving its terminus from New Washington Street to the upper busway. MassDOT and the MBTA have said there will be no significant impact.

But Malia and Doherty raised further concern about yet another busway change so late in the process in a design that, Doherty said, was described as “hot out of the oven.”

“We’re talking about a major transit hub,” Malia said.

Arborway Yard parking

A lingering question mark in the Casey Arborway plan is the fate of roughly 105 parking spaces beneath the overpass used by employees of the West Roxbury District Courthouse. The Gazette has learned further details of a plan to put some of those spaces permanently at the MBTA’s Arborway Yard bus facility.

The current plan is to relocate 65 parking spaces to the Arborway Yard, on the other side of the Arborway, with the rest of parking spaces not replaced. The selected area is a space currently used to chip wood that has been quarantined for possible infestation by the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB). If JP remains free of ALB sightings, the quarantine and wood-chipping are slated to end early next year.

Using the Arborway for courthouse employee parking is both the “short- and long-term plan,” Verseckes said.

It is unclear how that will play into long-stalled plans to build a permanent, full-scale MBTA bus garage and adjacent mixed-used redevelopment at the Arborway Yard site.

Parking for courthouse jurors will remain on-street adjacent to the courthouse at 445 Arborway, Verseckes said.

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