FOREST HILLS— State Department of Transportation (MassDOT) officials announced the possibility of an Casey Arborway design that would greatly reduce pavement but could still be easily expanded to a larger design to accommodate projected 2035 levels of traffic at a June 18 Design Advisory Group (DAG) meeting.
Discrepancies between two traffic analyses in the Casey Arborway project were explained as confusion about outdated data.
The design team also promised to release a long-awaited and reportedly positive peer review of the traffic study in “days, not weeks” but did not explain the three-month delay.
The “opening year” design would be a reduction of up to two lanes per intersection throughout the corridor.
The “opening year” design, so called because it is aimed at accommodating 2016 levels of traffic, the projected opening date for the new Arborway, has fewer lanes than the full 2035 design, though it leaves space for the future lanes to be added when necessary. Combined with other changes to the total design, it is a reduction of up to 22 feet of pavement for pedestrians to cross.
DAG members expressed worry that future budgets would not allow the expansion when it became necessary. Boston Transportation Department (BTD) Director of Planning Vineet Gupta said that the greatest infrastructure expenses would be completed first, leaving only the actual laying down of new pavement to be completed later.
“It’s forward-thinking. It’s smart,” DAG member Kevin Wolfson said.
“We want accountability, better than what we’ve seen so far,” DAG member Liz O’Connor said of the plan. “The issue isn’t how many lanes. It’s how good is the promise.”
The design team added that they have just started calculating thresholds for the expansion and that no trigger dates are yet available.
State officials also provided updated traffic modeling data that explained the perceived and controversial traffic discrepancies.
As the Gazette reported earlier this month, two different versions of analyses showed occasionally widely different levels of service (LOS). LOS is a measure of how well traffic moves through an intersection.
One version of the analysis was presented to the advisory group last October. A newer version was released last month following a six-week delay after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. In the newer analysis, some intersections had much worse LOS scores while some fared better.
According to the design team, as the design evolves—with traffic lanes being added, subtracted or moved—LOS will improve or worsen at impacted intersections.
When DAG members received the more recent analysis, it showed changed LOS scores reflecting the design work done since October, MassDOT officials explained at the June 18 meeting.
“As design progresses and is tweaked, the [LOS] results will change,” MassDOT Highway Administrator Frank DePaola told the Gazette in a prepared statement. “The good news is, by making even small changes in a sophisticated traffic modeling system, we are allowed to see the effects of those changes in relatively short order.”
“But even with our best efforts to get as much information as we can out to the public as quickly as possible, depending on when and how often re-analyses are done, data may change from what is in the public’s hands at a given time and could cause what may appear to be discrepancies,” DePaola continued.
“When you’re dealing with moving parts” things change, design team member Gary McNaughton said at the meeting. “It’s a work in progress.”
The state’s team also distributed the most recent in-depth traffic data and noted the DAG’s desire for more regular updates.
“Things look a lot more positive with this updated material,” DAG member Allan Ihrer said at the meeting. Ihrer conducted the comparison that showed the LOS discrepancies.
“We want all the information so that we can advise you,” DAG member David Hannon said to the state team.
“It’s not a grand conspiracy,” MassDOT co-project manager Steve McLaughlin said. “We know, fundamentally, that the traffic will work.”
During the meeting, McLaughlin read a statement from CDM Smith, Inc., the firm performing the peer study, stating its agreement on the soundness of the state team’s evaluation.
When the Gazette asked McLaughlin when the entire review would be posted to the project’s website, he answered, “Days, not weeks. Hopefully, hours.”
“There is nothing about the peer review study document to get ‘ready’,” DAG member Kevin Moloney told the Gazette in an email. “The inference that I draw is that what DOT is getting ‘ready’ is its response to the peer review study, not the study document.”
DAG members have been expecting the release of the peer review since March, when John Romano, the project’s previous municipal liaison, announced its existence and promised its distribution.
The design team also announced that the City had, unbeknownst to them, done supplemental traffic counts last February. The design team only received those counts on June 15.
McNaughton said that those new counts would be compared to previous numbers to ensure their accuracy. DAG members have been concerned about previous traffic counts, as they were done in June, after college students left for the summer.
Gupta addressed the DAG, saying that the projections being used by the design team for this project are “very aggressive.”
The 17 percent of projected growth is a number not seen anywhere else in the city, he said, a fact the design team used to support the idea of the “opening year” plan.
The team did not address the question of parking in-depth. Parking replacement has been a controversial topic, particularly for the neighbors of the West Roxbury Courthouse at 445 Arborway. The latest plan presented to the DAG showed about 50 spaces returning to the area.
The parking lot under the Casey Overpass can accommodate up to 105 cars and during two recent Gazette visits was at least 80 percent full.
State Rep. Russell Holmes said during the meeting that he would like an “in-depth discussion of unsolved traffic issues” such as MBTA buses scheduled.
The Casey Arborway, an at-grade surface street network, will replace the crumbling Casey Overpass. The Casey Overpass is the State Route 203 bridge over Washington Street at the Forest Hills T Station. The process has been fraught with controversy since it was first announced in late 2010.
The state Casey project website is massdot.state.ma.us/caseyoverpass.