FOREST HILLS—The state has identified a possible alternative funding source for part of the Casey Arborway project. Meanwhile, it still awaits Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) review of part of the project, which will replace the Casey Overpass at Forest Hills with new surface streets.
The state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is “actively exploring” the use of funds from a state bond bill that is part of “The Way Forward” initiative, planners announced at a Nov. 19 meeting of the Casey Design Advisory Group (DAG).
The MassDOT team had previously stated it was investigating new funding options, but did not specify them. The Casey project is currently wholly funded through the state Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP), exclusively dedicated to fixing crumbling bridges. An alternative, additional funding source would free up more ABP money to use on other bridges.
“The Way Forward” initiative would encourage investing in existing infrastructure. The state legislature has not yet approved the bill.
“If it sounds like the funding situation for the Casey project is in flux, it isn’t really,” MassDOT spokesperson Michael Verseckes told the Gazette last week. “This is a way to see if we can maximize the resources we have to make as many other improvements to other bridge project that we can.”
Bernie Doherty, head of the Asticou-Martinwood-South Street Neighborhood Association, has frequently questioned the legality of using ABP funds to pay for mitigations that are part of the project but that are not directly related to the bridge, such as Forest Hills T Station modifications. But MassDOT has repeatedly claimed that APB funds are allowed for all aspects of the project.
Meanwhile, MassDOT continues to attempt to convince the MHC of the necessity for a redesign of Shea Circle at the Arborway and Morton Street into an intersection called Shea Square. The MHC has repeatedly requested design alternatives and more proof for altering the historic state parkway. The back-and-forth has delayed the overall Casey Arborway project’s start date slightly to sometime early next year.
On Nov. 19, the same day as the DAG meeting, MassDOT submitted a new Shea Square information packet to the MHC. DAG members received it on Dec. 1.
The packet of documents submitted to MHC describes in greater detail the three proposed options for Shea Circle: keeping the rotary as it exists with minimal upgrades, reshaping the rotary into an oval and adding two lights, and replacing the whole thing with a signalized intersection.
The packet reiterates MassDOT’s position that Shea Square, the signalized intersection, is the best option.
“While each alternative provides some level of improvement for pedestrian and bicycle safety, all would severely degrade traffic operations and create hazardous conditions for motorists,” the cover letter says.
The option to create Shea Square was originally created to reduce the high rate of vehicle crashes on the rotary.
In another tweak to the plans, MassDOT has reduced the number of employee parking spaces it will relocate from the West Roxbury District Court to the Arborway Yard bus facility site. Originally announced as 65 spaces, it will now be only 45 spaces, according to Verseckes. The courthouse currently has 100 spaces beneath the Casey Overpass.
The Casey plan has been controversial, with many organized local supporters and detractors. The Nov. 19 was the final large-scale community meeting about the plans. Members of the opposition group Bridging Forest Hills were a large part of the audience, with many wearing hats bearing the group’s logo.
Information on the project, including past presentations to the community, can be found at massdot.state.ma.us/caseyarborway.