FOREST HILLS—Despite the MBTA’s surprise plan to demolish the soon-to-be vacant 500 Arborway office building this year, the plans for the overdue Arborway Yard bus facility have not been revised to reflect that major change.
The 500 Arborway building demolition leaves a hole in the center of the planned bus facility, and there is no long-term plan to fill it, according to MBTA officials. But in the short term, it likely will be used for Casey Arborway project construction staging.
There are still no funds to construction the permanent Arborway Yard facility and it remains unclear why the MBTA is doing “site preparation” now, which also includes demolishing and moving an adjacent City pole yard.
While the Casey project may use the site temporarily, it did not drive the decision, according to state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) spokesperson Michael Verseckes.
“My understanding is the driving force behind the demolition of 500 Arborway is the age of the building,” Verseckes said.
MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo previously told the Gazette the 500 Arborway and pole yard demolitions must happen now by the terms of an old legal agreement, but the Gazette found that agreement does not specify any timeframe.
The Arborway Yard at the Arborway and Washington Street currently houses a years-old “temporary” bus maintenance facility. In 1998, with no community notice, the MBTA sought bids for a massive permanent bus facility there. Amid controversy, the MBTA agreed to a lengthy public process that resulted in a community-approved design that includes roughly 8 acres of private mixed-use development and parkland. But the construction remains unfunded years later.
The site preparation and demolition funding was originally packaged along with construction of a new facility, which Pesaturo previously confirmed remains unfunded.
The City Department of Public Works (DPW) also has a pole yard on the property, which is in the early stages of being moved to a new location on American Legion Highway. The City has not responded to Gazette questions about the cost and reasons for that move.
Funds for the site preparation and demolition have already been approved and are included in the MBTA’s five-year plan, called a Capital Investment Program (CIP). According to Allan Ihrer, a member of the Community Planning Committee for the Arborway Yard (CPCAY), the allotted $63.5 million include design and construction for the site preparation, as well as associated force account and inspections.
This step is “essentially the first phase of construction for the permanent facility,” he told the Gazette.
However, the community-approved plans for the permanent bus yard have not been changed to reflect the fact that 500 Arborway will be demolished. When the plans were last presented to the community in 2010, the MBTA still planned to keep the building standing.
“There are no permanent plans for the site on which the building now sits,” MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo told the Gazette this week. Neither is there a plan for when that design will be revised, he said.
“In years of engaging with the T on the bus yard we’ve found them to be frequently opaque and always not beyond dissembling,” Ihrer told the Gazette last week. “Years ago the T spent many months and a great deal of money producing a feasibility study to show that they couldn’t possibly tear down 500 Arborway. Thus they wracked their bus facility around an old office building, adding many millions to the cost.”
Ihrer has suggested relocating the permanent bus yard about a mile away to American Legion Highway. The MBTA has not done a feasibility study or cost analysis of that move, Pesaturo said, but the agency has shot down the idea anyway.
Gazette requests for information on funding the pole yard move to the City have not been answered.
Merlin Southwick, co-head of the CPCAY, did not reply to a Gazette email answering questions whether that group has recently met with the MBTA.
Meanwhile, the footprint of the soon-to-be-demolished building will “very likely” serve as a staging site for the adjacent state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Casey Arborway project, Pesaturo said.
“Typically, contractors must develop their own staging plans that are reviewed and approved by MassDOT; the agency does not provide staging space to contractors,” Verseckes told the Gazette. “In this instance, however, it is likely that an area on the site of 500 Arborway could be used by a contractor to mobilize a portion of the work.”
Verseckes emphasized, “MassDOT has been working closely with the MBTA to ensure that the two projects can occur without impacting one another.”