MHC: Shea Circle won’t be preserved

March 14, 2014
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The historic Shea Circle rotary will not be preserved for the Casey Arborway project, leaving an intersection or highly modified rotary as the alternatives under discussion, according to an audio recording of a Jan. 31 Massachusetts Historic Commission (MHC) meeting.

The fate of Shea Circle has delayed the Casey Arborway for months as the MHC and the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) continue negotiating on a design. For months, both agencies have repeatedly not responded to Gazette questions about what exact designs are under discussion, or even when public “consultation” meetings are held.

The Gazette recently obtained an audio recording of the Jan. 31 MHC meeting, apparently the latest MassDOT consultation. It appears the only public notice of that meeting was an announcement sent to select Jamaica Plain activists by U.S. mail. Despite expressing interest and being on a contact sheet from a prior MHC meeting, the Gazette did not receive a notice.

The audio recording clarifies the general options remaining on the table. But exact details and the reason negotiations are dragging on for months remain unclear.

MassDOT needs approval from MHC for a redesign of Shea Circle at the Arborway and Morton Street into an intersection called Shea Square. The rotary is part of a historic state parkway. The MHC has repeatedly requested design alternatives, first to keep Shea Circle, then to minimize or mitigate adverse effects to the structure.

At a Jan. 31 consultation with the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT), meant to discuss alternatives to minimize or mitigate adverse effects to altering or removing Shea Circle, JP residents spent over an hour discussing the historical significance of the structure and the need to preserve it.

About 10 members of the MassDOT design team were present at the Jan. 31 meeting, along with several JP residents including Jeffrey Ferris, Kevin Moloney, Sarah Freeman, Anne McKinnon, and Tom Jacobson, representing the Franklin Park Coalition.

Ferris, McKinnon and Moloney have been vocal opponents of the state’s at-grade street network plan and are involved with the Bridging Forest Hills activist organization. Freeman has been a strong supporter of the state plan. They all commented at length in the meeting.

Jacobson also spoke in favor of preserving the circle.

“We already dismissed saving the rotary [after] the August [consultation] meeting,” MHC Executive Director Brona Simon said at that meeting in response, complaining that the meeting went off-course.

“We did not achieve what our working meetings usually achieve, which is to have a think tank come up with alternatives” due to the time used up by JP community members, Simon said.

“We have a phalanx of people across the table not showing an iota of movement,” Moloney said at the meeting.

At that meeting, JP resident Nina Brown, a member of MassDOT’s Design Advisory Group on the Casey project who survived a serious car accident at Shea Circle some years ago, stated her opinion that “rotaries are not safe.”

“I feel really lucky that I wasn’t killed that day and can be part of the discussion,” she said. “A traditional intersection is really the best option.”

“Historic preservation does not trump human safety,” Simon said. “So much in the November submittal [made by MassDOT following another consultation meeting] had to do with speed and safety.”

Moloney told the Gazette after the meeting that his opinion was that MHC was “not pleased about MassDOT’s attitude” with their lengthy response time.

“They waited months before making any substantive contact with MHC,” he said. “To blame MHC for the so-called delay is way off the mark. DOT is the one who delayed their responsibilities.”

“They haven’t proposed much in the way of alternatives,” he said.

Bridging Forest Hills members were slated to protest at a March 12 MBTA board meeting, after the Gazette’s deadline, about what the group calls “numerous errors, omissions and misleading statements and conclusions” in MassDOT’s Casey Arborway process, including the MHC review.

Simon said at the Jan. 31 meeting that, “Mass Highway responded to our August request” for information and alternatives for keeping the rotary with new traffic calming measures.

“The signalized intersection is the only way we can accomplish these goals” of processing traffic and increasing pedestrian and bicycle safety, Gary McNaughton, a member of the MassDOT team, said at the meeting. “Rotaries have horrible pedestrian fatality rates.”

According to MassDOT spokesperson Michael Verseckes, the project team has not yet advertised the project for contractor bids due to the ongoing consultation with MHC.

In November, MassDOT said at a community advisory board meeting that the project was expected to be put out to bid by the end of January.

The Casey plan has been controversial, with many organized local supporters and detractors. Information on the project, including past presentations to the community, can be found at massdot.state.ma.us/caseyarborway.

The audio recording of the Jan. 31 consultation with MHC is available on request from that body.