JP Observer: Bus yard belongs on the highway

April 25, 2014
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Looking into details of a proposal to put a new MBTA bus maintenance and storage facility on American Legion Highway (ALH) instead of on Washington Street at the Arborway makes me pound my forehead with the heel of my hand. Of course! It’s such a good idea.

At first, I was dubious just because it was new. Over the 16 years since the huge facility was proposed by the T, the community came to accept that it would be built here. Almost 11 years ago, everyone also gave into hosting a “temporary” facility.

People have spent hundreds of hours attending meetings over the years. The Community Planning Committee for the Arborway Yard (CPCAY) has worked with the city, the T and the state Department of Transportation developing the best possible facility.

Change of location should not be feared in a process where the plans have been drastically modified many times. As just one example, the T insisted it wanted to keep its offices at 500 Arborway until a few years ago when it suddenly decided it wanted to demolish the building.

The area around the 19-acre site is changing, too. The Casey Overpass was going to be next to the bus yard, but it’s coming down. Oil tanks that were across the street are gone! Plans call for other industrial uses to disappear, all to be replaced by housing, green space and small retail.

One crucial event hasn’t happened in all this time: Funds to actually build the bus facility have not been allocated.

According to information compiled by CPCAY member and Stonybrook resident Allan Ihrer, compared to Washington Street, the ALH site is: cheaper and easier to build on; more spacious; more in need of attention; and farther from houses. Best of all, it would leave the Washington Street site free for the T to sell for uses compatible with the surroundings and bring activity to the deserted ALH area. Ihrer’s budget includes spending up to $7.5 million to relocate some existing uses, like composting, now on part of the site.

A study published by the T last November is negative about the change, but much of its opposition is based on claims that building on the ALH site would take more time and cost more. The first is silly, given the T’s Draft Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for Fiscal Years 2015-2019 shows no money for construction. The second objection is erroneous, saying the cost of Washington/Arborway would be $180 million when the T has said for years it would be $220 million to $250 million.

The CIP does call for jumping to spend about $30 million soon for “site preparation.” That would be a waste of money, given the total lack of funds for construction—and if the ALH site turns out to be preferable.

The CPCAY will hold a community meeting on May 14 at 7 p.m. (location to be announced) where people can learn and voice their thoughts about the status and location of a permanent bus facility.

Ihrer says the reason it still hasn’t been built or funded is that, based on conditions at the site, “It wasn’t meant for Washington Street.”

The facts, examined objectively, indicate he’s right.

Sandra Storey was the founding editor and publisher of the Gazette and lives in Jamaica Plain.