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"It Is Not Going to Move Forward" — Opponents of At-Grade Forest Hills Solution Dig In

While the state and supporters of a surface-only traffic pattern for the new Forest Hills urge moving on, there remains a group opposed to the decision.

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.]

Marc near the Park March 30, 2012 at 04:40 PM
That comment, "It is not going to move forward," is very troubling. I'm surprised that people are so opposed to the at-grade solution. Process aside (I only attended the very first meeting and thought the WAG would be able to aptly handle the situation as they have much more expertise than me in their respective fields) people are going a little batty (pictures of the beauty of the Forest Hills MBTA Bus Yard from the overpass?) with their opposition to the at-grade plan. You are adding two streams of traffic into an expanded at grade plan that accounts for the additional lanes, coupled with the lack of necessity for the awkward intersections that the overpass has forced upon the area. I've visited the Embarcadero section of SF recently as well, I'm sure people thought it was going to be hell on earth when it had to come down too. How did that turn out?
Charlie Denison March 30, 2012 at 06:13 PM
I am also very disappointed to see such strong statements about halting the entire process. It benefits no one to delay this project and jeopardize the funding in the process. MassDOT tried to find consensus as best as it could within the Working Group, but that requires a give and take on everyone's part. It's time now for everyone to work together and make the at-grade option the best it can possibly be.
Mark Tedrow March 30, 2012 at 06:38 PM
The design must move forward to prevent disaster. The bridge is falling down as we argue. The current bridge was designed poorly and suffered from problems shortly after it was built; the brick covering the spandrel beams was removed shortly after construction is perhaps the most notable example that the original design was flawed. Major repairs around 1990 added the large concrete beams that we use as sidewalks to reinforce the bridge, but even with multiple repairs the bridge is still failing. The state has wisely decided to stop spending on major repairs to the Casey Overpass (they are still doing deck and pothole repair to keep one lane in each direction open) after realizing that it is not fiscally responsible to save the current overpass. If we delay the at-grade design process we risk the state limiting heavy vehicles or even possibly closing the bridge to all traffic in order to prevent the unthinkable. I urge all my fellow neighbors to come together and work towards designing a "Caseyway" that helps improves the lot for everyone in the community. Reaching consensus with everyone will never happen - just try to imagine getting everyone to agree what to have for Easter dinner, some will insist on lamb and others on ham. I do believe that if we work together, the adjoining neighborhoods and those traveling through on Rt 203, Washington St., Hyde Parke Ave,, and South St can enjoy safe, friendly, and efficient roadway and transportation hub.
Marc near the Park March 30, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Agreed!
aaron March 31, 2012 at 09:40 AM
Being a johnny come lately to this issue, I sat back, read about it in the gazette, and assumed that the right thing would be done. Turns out I was wrong. I feel like I'm being sold something. Having lived in both hyde park ave and centre st, I understand the two sides of the neighborhood. They are what they are. hyde park ave is a part of jp that feels more like roslindale or hyde park, and it always will. the business' there are geared towards locals and the T crowd. If the state wants to freshen the area up, do something with the industrial stretch of Wash. st, build some parks, that's great. How is the overpass hindering these efforts. I don't see how bicyclist benefit from at-grade either, other than to weave through the gridlock and blow red lights while everyone else is stuck in traffic. I also don't understand why people are currently daunted by the prospect of crossing to the "other side" of jp in the first place. I know its dark under there, but since they aren't using the overpass to cross it must be the street level traffic. Traffic which only stands to worsen. Can someone explain how we got here?
Ken Griffin March 31, 2012 at 02:33 PM
I attended the meeting Thursday evening and was impressed by all the comments. I am a pro-bridge Forest Hills resident, but I get “it”. It’s all about the money, and a bridge just sucks the life out of an operating budget that gets leaner every fiscal cycle. My concerns center around the long-term care and maintenance of newly created green space (which I believe the DCR will immediately ignore based on their previous track record) and the continued impression by Mass DOT that the DAG will have a large role in the creation of design elements in the construction contract documents. This is primarily an engineering and construction administration exercise with a landscape component. I project manage capital projects for a living, and for all its complexity, this is massive demolition headache and roadway construction undertaking – pretty straightforward. Other than the construction insanity heading our way, I feel the biggest gap is a lack of a commitment on the part of the Boston Police Department to get a handle on traffic issues in the Forest Hills neighborhood – where is the enforcement?!
Chris Helms (Editor) March 31, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Hi Aaron, This is Chris Helms, editor of the Patch. Here's a link to our topic page, an archive of everything we've published on the issue: http://jamaicaplain.patch.com/topics/casey-overpass Hope it helps!
Alan Wright March 31, 2012 at 11:15 PM
Jeff Ferris's opposition is inexplicable
Joan Wood April 02, 2012 at 02:54 PM
As a lifelong Bostonian driven out by the high cost of housing, who now lives in the hell of suburbia near constant traffic, I am absolutely astounded that people in JP would support the at grade "solution". Perhaps incorrectly, I understand that this would create 6 lanes of traffic on the street level at Forest Hills, which would be an UTTER DISASTER. I cannot imagine how people can sanely consider this. The amount of traffic will be overwhelming and pedestrian and T usage will suffer. I can barely get across Route 109 out here in Metrowest Hell and I assure you, your traffic and pollution patterns will be far WORSE from flow through traffic to other communities. I know people fantasize about how we are all going to be on bikes, but that's not really going to happen. Ordinary folks not only won't give up their cars for bikes - they really CAN'T. Those who advocate increased bike usage are not realistic about the needs of families, the demands of 20-30 mile (one way) commutes, or the dangers of weaving through our traffic, which is not remotely bike friendly. Please don't do this to one of the best neighborhoods in Boston. DOT is picking the cheap and dirty way to get the job "done" and I can assure you they don't care about this or any neighborhood in Boston. Their execs are suburbanites who have a long tradition of not caring. A new bridge, possibly along with other ideas to divert traffic from JP, is by FAR the best, and really - the only PRACTICAL solution.
Alan Wright April 02, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Joan, I disagree with most of your comments. I have been an urban bike commuter for 40 years, 25 in Boston. I used to live in JP, then Rosi and now Dedham. I bike several times per week to UMass Boston. I start out on Rt 109 and cross the VFW Parkway in West Rox; I've never had a problem with that though I wish the city would bike lane Spring & Centre Streets. Everything else is fine until I get to Forest Hills - 'Bikers Hell', especially where the Arborway/Rt 203 dumps into the circle before Franklin Park. Traffic coming off the bridge into the circle is speeding and makes entering the circle like a hurricane. I'm a very experienced and assertive biker and I HATE that intersection. I want the traffic calming that will come with at grade. One things that confuses me about the opponents is that just a mile west of Forest Hills is an at-grade solution that works just fine - the Arborway/Centre St Circle. Jeff, what's up with that?
Jerry O'Connor April 02, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Hi Alan: It is a pretty interesting ride now, I agree. From Yale Terrace, you can't go anywhere without riding through that circle. It's better than a double espresso for getting the cobwebs out of your brain. In my experience, most of the drivers are reasonably attentive, because they are fearing for their own lives, but of course it only takes one to complicate your morning. By the way, if you want to avoid Forest Hills I have a "short cut" for you: instead of going down Arborway/203 to Shea Circle, stay on Centre Street to the monument, then take Child to Williams into the park, go under the roadway, turn left and ride up the path or onto Circuit Drive. Not much distance added and a nicer ride. Give it a try and see what you think. Jerry O'Connor
Anne McKinnon April 04, 2012 at 01:08 PM
I thought he and Alan Ihrer explained the oppostion pretty well. The basis of decision was flawed, the study hurried, the commitment to reaching consensus ignored, and the common-sense alternative--build an iconic bridge, limit the number of cars bikes, buses, pedestrians have to interact with on the surface, and prioritze bus movements--was never looked at.
Michael Halle April 04, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Hi Anne, I'm not sure I've heard what this single "common sense alternative" is or was. The last couple of times I've heard Jeff describe what he wants, he's said that MassDOT never investigated a plan with more surface lanes than the now-rejected bridge alternative (presumably two lanes in each direction with a left turn pocket). Previously, Jeff advocated for a bridge with multi-use paths in both directions, which would have been significantly wider than the bridge in the bridge alternative (16-20 ft minimum extra). Before that, Jeff had been the strongest advocate for a split bridge design, which would have been wider still. Though I disagreed, I supported Jeff's ability to advocate for those alternatives based on his views and priorities. Both ideas he advocated got a hearing. But in both cases I've mentioned his opinion did not convince the advisory group. Most people were pretty clear that a new bridge, should one be built, should be as narrow as possible, and that a first class pedestrian and pedestrian facility on the ground would serve vastly more people better than a bridge-based multi-use path. A wide bridge was thought to diminish the at-grade experience. So I don't see how Jeff's ideas for a wider bridge and more surface lanes, which would make the street crossing wider than the selected at-grade alternative, would ever have reached broad WAG or community consensus. It there another "common sense" alternative?

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