The mayor has called it nothing less than a "second Big Dig." It's the Casey Arborway project. And it will make life hard for Forest Hills businesses for years.
On Wednesday, as state officials informed a group of local stakeholders about the plans for the various stages of the massive demolition and construction project, one local businessman sounded the alarm. Narrowed roads, closed sidewalks and the general chaos of construction could spell doom to businesses in Forest Hills.
"You're going to see a wasteland along Washington Street," said Chef Brad Brown, owner of Blue Frog Bakery. "There's going to be nothing left."
Brown recalls how when he opened his Green Street bakery, a small sewer project right in front of his store nearly drove his nascent shop out of business.
The work associated with tearing down the Casey Overpass and replacing it with a network of street level roads is many orders of magnitude beyond a simple sewer project. Construction would last about two and half years, from early 2014 to September 2016.
Asked if the Department of Transportation would reimburse local businesses for the damage to their livelihoods, the agency's manager of long-range planning, Katherine Fichter, gave a flat no.
City of Boston agencies like the Neighborhood Development Department might be more helpful, though no specific plans appear to be in place.
"It's a priority of the mayor to help businesses during construction," Vineet Gupta, director of planning for the Boston Transportation Department, told the crowd of about 50 officials and stakeholders.
Liz O'Connor, a member of the stakeholder group, said the business district along Washington is relatively new and fragile. There are several new businesses along the stretch, including , , the refurbished at Tower Street and the soon-to-open . Well established businesses may have trouble too, like and .
There is historical precedent for payouts to businesses disrupted by construction in JP. Brown, citing information from JP historian Michael Reiskind, said that when was built up in the 1980s, some businesses did get reimbursed. But the process was very flawed. Only businesses that survived the construction period got any money. And that money was not given in a timely way, Brown said.
The lack of support for businesses back then, Brown said, is visible today as the district struggles to thrive.
Project managers said they would strive to make the portions of the demolition and construction that will have the most negative impact as short as possible. For instance, there will be a time when Washington Street will be narrowed to one lane in each direction while the old bridge parts directly above the roadway are removed.
One member of the stakeholder group, whose name Patch didn't catch, spoke up to say it would be up to the community to pay special attention to Forest Hills businesses during construction and support them.