At a state hearing that authorities aimed to be the last chapter in the "bridge versus at-grade debate," critics made it clear they aren't going away.
Thursday night more than 100 people attended a public meeting about what the state is now calling the "Casey Arborway Project." The decrepit Casey Overpass will be torn down and a six-lane system of surface roads will move traffic instead.
At a meeting of the Working Advisory Group last week, the state was calling the project the "Casey Parkway." Patch has reached out to Department of Transportation to find out what the official name is.
At Thursday night's public meeting at , state officials started off by laying out the timeline for the rest of the project. An attached photo shows the main milestones. Construction would end in October 2016 if the schedule holds.
Tearing down the bridge and creating a complicated new network of roads will be a headache for the neighborhood, said Project Manager Paul King.
"There's going to be a lot of upheaval," he said. "We can't sugarcoat that."
Officials made it crystal clear they do not intend to revisit the basic decision in favor of an "at-grade" solution. The project is moving into a six-month "design phase" in which the Working Advisory Group that has been representing community concerns transforms into a Design Advisory Group.
"We're not going to spend time at the [Design Advisory Group] talking about why we won't be building a bridge," said David Mohler, director of planning at the MassDOT.
State officials opened the floor to comments and questions from the audience. More than 40 people spoke. Very roughly, about 22 people praised the at-grade solution. About 11 people spoke in favor of the bridge option. Roughly five speakers' position was hard to tell and another five saved their biggest criticism for the state's process itself.
Allan Ihrer, a member of the Working Advisory Group appointed as a representative of the Stonybrook neighborhood, decried what he said was way too little time spent in the past year of meetings examining traffic. He said a scant 30-40 minutes were spent on the topic, and that at the second-to-last meeting of the group.
He criticized that did not include buses, for instance. He said "simple issues" like traffic counts had not been properly dealt with by the state. The result?
"We've built to the point where people are enemies," Ihrer said of the divide between those who favor the at-large and bridge options.
That dynamic could be seen throughout the meeting, as a slightly smaller group of people applauded critical commenters than cheered people who said they were happy with the at-grade solution.
"We never intended to divide the neighborhood," said Mohler of the DOT. "We never intended to have 'bridge people' and 'non-bridge' people."
Perhaps the key comment of the night came from Jeffrey Ferris, a well-known bicycle advocate, and bridge supporter. After urging the state not to build the project on a foundation of sand, he said the process has been unfair and that he plans to put a stop to it.
"At this point, it is not going to move forward," said Ferris, who is a member of the Working Advisory Group.
Asked after the meeting what that meant, Ferris pointed to an environmental permitting process that could, theoretically, bring the project to a halt.
But the crux of several commenters who back the at-grade plan was that further delay might endanger the project getting the state funds that make it possible.
"To go backwards and try to delay the process could be harmful to the neighborhood," said Pete Stidman, who has been an of an at-grade design.
Other key themes from commenters Thursday included dissatisfaction with how Mattapan and Hyde Park residents had been seemingly left out of the planning process. The overpass, which is also Route 203, is a main commuting route for neighborhoods outside JP. State officials said notice of their public meetings had appeared in newspapers reaching Mattapan and Hyde Park. Even so, they apologized.
"I'm sorry we didn't do a good enough job," Mohler said.
The next step in the state's process is to transform the 39-member Working Advisory Group into a Design Advisory Group. All members of the original group can stay on if they wish, though state officials said they must be focused on how to make the at-grade plan the best one possible, and not fight a rearguard action to get a bridge rebuilt.
[Editor's note: The Stonybrook Neighborhood Assoc. is not represented on the Working Advisory Group by Allan Ihrer. The association has not taken a formal position on the Casey Overpass question, according to Frederick Vetterlein, co-chairman of the association's Steering Committee.]