DCR willing to consider bus yard move

May 9, 2014
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By Rebeca Oliveira and Peter Shanley/Gazette Staff

A proposed plan to relocate the as-yet-unfunded permanent MBTA bus maintenance yard from its 500 Arborway site to an alternate location at 415 American Legion Highway would have the “full cooperation” of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the site’s owner.

Earlier this year, JP resident Allan Ihrer proposed that the long-delayed future bus yard be built on a large American Legion Highway parcel, allowing for the Arborway property to be developed into transit-oriented housing instead.

The American Legion Highway site is already occupied by two private businesses and partly controlled by Zoo New England (ZNE), which operates Franklin Park Zoo. The site’s use is split into three parts. The westernmost end is leased by DCR to Landscape Express, Inc. The smallest, middle part, controlled by ZNE, is leased to City Soil & Greenhouse LLC. The easternmost part of the property is a ZNE parking lot slated to become the new home of a City pole yard.

Hickey told the Gazette last week that Ihrer’s idea to relocate the bus yard to the American Legion site would fall entirely under the MBTA’s purview, and that DCR would “cooperate fully” with any state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) plan.

“The relocation concept is an operational issue for the MBTA and DOT. DCR owns the property and if this is something that the T should decide to explore, we will cooperate fully with them in any study or examination,” Hickey said.

ZNE’s control of part of the site dates to many years ago, when the now independent zoo was managed by DCR’s predecessor agency, the Metropolitan District Commission. ZNE designated the site as overflow parking, though it is over a mile from the zoo site.

Relocating the existing pole yard from its 327 Forest Hills St. location to the American Legion Highway site is a critical step in the construction of the MBTA’s planned permanent Arborway Yard bus facility at the Arborway and Washington Street. However, that facility’s construction remains unfunded and it is unclear why the pole yard is moving now. MBTA and state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) officials previously said it is unrelated to upcoming construction of the adjacent Casey Arborway project. But DCR spokesperson Bill Hickey told the Gazette it is indeed related to that project.

The pole yard is moving under agreement with ZNE. ZNE officials told the Gazette last week that, though they have heard of the proposed plan to relocate the bus yard to the American Legion Highway site, they had “not been approached about it.”

Meanwhile, the associated City pole yard move is going out for a second round of bids, according to City spokesperson Kate Norton.

Because the City’s Department of Public Works (DPW) usually only offers roadwork contracts, contractors of other specialties like masonry don’t usually check DPW listings for work.

When the bid to move the pole yard closed last week, DPW had received no bids, likely because no contractors able to relocate a pole yard even saw it, Norton said.

“We’re going out again with a revised strategy. It’ll set the process back a couple of weeks,” she said. “DPW will do extra legwork to get the word out.”

The cost of the move has not yet been finalized, Norton said, because of another DPW rule that applies to bigger contracts: all the different specialties—electrical, plumbing, etc.—must be bid out separately, taking longer to add up the cost.

Currently, the City is paying ZNE $5,000 per month for the use of the site. That payment will continue for the next 24 months, until the new permanent pole yard facility is completed. Beyond that, no decisions have yet been finalized, Norton said.

A meeting scheduled to discuss the status of the Arborway bus yard has been scheduled for May 14 at English High School.