Editorial: Another Arborway Yard surprise

Here we go again with another Arborway Yard surprise.

The MBTA’s roundabout confession to the Gazette that it is about to start “site preparation,” including a major demolition, is the latest unnecessarily confusing and surprising step in 15 years of tinkering with this crucial public transit facility.

The goals here should be simple. The MBTA deserves a high-quality bus maintenance facility serving Forest Hills Station. The public deserves clear, concise information about construction done in its back yard with its tax money.

Yet it has rarely gone that way.

In 1998, the MBTA tried to sneak the whole idea of a new Arborway Yard facility past the public, putting a massive project out to bid through a nondescript legal ad with no community notice. After the Gazette pointed that out, JP and then Mayor Thomas Menino demanded a public process.

The process took too long—several years—but resulted in what all agreed was a better plan, including 8 acres of mixed-use development and parkland. In 2007, at what was supposed to be the final meeting to approve the plan, the MBTA suddenly announced the whole thing was fatally flawed. Bus engineers, incredibly, had never looked at the plan. The MBTA’s own general manager later told the Gazette he was unaware of this sudden killing of the plan and apologized to JP.

As the plan was revised over the next couple of years, community members suggested that demolishing the MBTA’s 500 Arborway office building would greatly improve the plan and reduce its cost. The MBTA said no, and the final public plan included the building. In 2010, the MBTA sought a federal grant to build the new facility, and the application suddenly included demolishing 500 Arborway.

Now we learn that this demolition is imminent, even though the main facility is unfunded. We know this only because the Gazette once again questioned an obscure legal ad, this time about a mysterious relocation of a City pole yard. And we still have no clear answer from either the MBTA or the City as to why they’re doing this and what it is costing the public. The MBTA’s responses, delivered through emails rarely more than one sentence long, are particularly dismissive and even insulting.

The MBTA and the City may well be acting on what they perceive to be fiscal wisdom and sound preparation for a future permanent bus yard. But this is not a private development where the public’s role is to watch and wait and be surprised, pleasantly or otherwise.

This is public land, public money, public transit. The MBTA and the City owe us a complete, clear and public explanation.

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