The state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) laid out plans for the first 90 days for the Casey Arborway construction project during a contentious community meeting Jan. 21 at English High School. The plan includes closing the westbound lane of the Casey Overpass in late February and the entire overpass by the end of March, in preparation for its demolition.
In addition, demolition work on the “west abutment”—the large brick-faced ramp supporting the overpass’s western end near the Arboretum—could begin in mid-February.
The meeting began with a protest by Bridging Forest Hills, a local group that has sought to have the Casey Overpass replaced with a new bridge rather than new surface streets—a plan decided on after a lengthy public process. The majority of the more than 250 people in attendance chanted “Forest Hills needs a bridge” and held up flyers displaying those words. The back of the flyers directed people to contact Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Martin Walsh to stop the Casey Arborway project. Throughout the meeting, some attendees continued to shout criticisms of the project.
Several other organizations and activists voiced support for the project in a written statement issued after the meeting, calling it a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to boost commuter and recreational connections for all types of users. Signatories included the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, the Boston Cyclists Union, the LivableStreets Alliance, WalkBoston, the Sumner Hill Association, the Arborway Coalition, Arborway Gardens Condominium Association, the Lower South Street Neighborhood Association, and the “ArborwayMatters” blog.
The Casey Arborway project will replace the Casey Overpass, which carries Route 203 over the Forest Hills T Station area. A new six- to eight-land surface road will be constructed. It was learned at the meeting that the vacant MBTA building at 500 Arborway will be used as a field office for the project.
Tom Russo of Barletta Heavy Division went over the major construction events for the first 90 days. They include constructing temporary surface roads eastbound and westbound by widening current streets in anticipation of the overpass closure.
The presentation also revealed that the Casey Arborway construction might eventually impact MBTA service during an unspecified period. There could be eight weekend diversions of the Orange Line and 56 possible early service shutdowns (9 p.m. to 4 a.m. Thursday through Sunday).
Officials said traffic will not be affected within the first 90 days because there will be no major detours, which elicited responses of disbelief from several attendees. Officials said if traffic turns out to be an issue, the Boston Transportation Department would be contacted to fix the timing of the traffic signals in the area.
Russo said construction will take place between 7 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. during the weekday and 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays. He said no night work is currently planned, and that if that changes, Barletta needs to give MassDOT a two-week warning.
Forest Hills resident and Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council member Bernie Doherty and other attendees criticized officials for not putting the presentation online before the meeting, especially because some slides were hard to see from a distance. Posting them online beforehand would also allow attendees to prepare questions, said Doherty. He also requested that a meeting be held every month, as opposed to every other month, which is what officials have said they will do.
“If you can’t handle this, how can you handle the construction,” said Doherty.
He also criticized any elected official not present, noting the importance of the issue.
“The reality is they need to be here because that is what we elected them for,” said Doherty.
City Councilor Matt O’Malley, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz and state Reps. Liz Malia and Russell Holmes made appearances at the meeting. Also in attendance were representatives for the Mayor’s Office, state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, and City Councilors Michelle Wu and Charles Yancey.
John Romano from MassDOT said the department will look into posting the presentation beforehand and having information on a more long-term plan at the next meeting, which is expected in March.