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What Does Friday's Casey Overpass Traffic Snarl Say for Post-Overpass Future?

When the state shut down the outbound lane of the Casey Overpass on Friday, it caused epic traffic tie-ups. Could it have been a preview of life without the overpass?

The abrupt shut-down of the Casey Overpass lane leading out of Boston on Friday caused epic traffic headaches. Mary Mulvey Jacobson recounts her gridlock nightmare:

The back ups started at the intersection of the VFW Parkway and Centre Street near Hebrew Rehab. An utter nightmare. This is what we will have to look forward to when they remove the Casey Overpass.

The overpass will be torn down starting next year and replaced with a network of surface roads.

Others saw in the incident further proof that the overpass is too decrepit to keep standing any longer than necessary. Liam Sullivan chimed in this way on the JP Patch Facebook page.

I hope this convinces Ferris and the Overpassing Forest Hills crew to stop stonewalling the plan to tear out the bridge. Otherwise we'll have a real mess and may have a tragedy.

He's referring to JP entrepreneur Jeff Ferris and others who have for the community than surface roads.

What's your opinion? Does Friday's traffic muck-up show us the future? Or will the network of surface roads, which will replace the confusing layout currently in place, move traffic at least as well as an overpass?

Follow all the Casey Overpass news at the JP Patch Casey Overpass topic page.

yannaro September 01, 2012 at 11:04 PM
The issue is not the so called "stonewalling" re a new bridge. The issue is twofold:, and the proof was yesterday. There will terrible traffic jams when the old bridge is torn down. And, this will continue even after the at grade solution is finished. The only viable solution is to rebuild the bridge. The design for a proposed new bridge was sleek, good looking and smaller than the old one. I don't envy pedetrians and bicyclists trying to across the mess at Forest Hills. By the way, the jam wasn't only on Centre St. from the Hebrew Rehab. Try Washington St. to Roslindale Square and Eliot Street from the Jway to the Monument. The MassDOT did no bargain in good faith for all that time at all those meetings. MassDOT had made the decision for a cheaper at grade solution before the "community" process even started. Shame on them and shame on the community for not raising hell about this.
Michael Halle September 02, 2012 at 03:15 AM
The editor's question poses a false choice. A random, sudden, unexpected closing of one roadway tells us little or nothing about how traffic will flow on a different roadway with a different configuration (but located in the same spot) sometime in the future. It might give us some hint about what could happen during Casey overpass demolition and roadway reconstruction IF the public isn't warned in advance about changes. So we should be devoting lots of energy into making sure that doesn't happen. In the current MassDOT construction plan, a temporary roadway will accommodate former overpass traffic before the eastbound lane is closed like it was on Friday. The most recent Casey roadway failure shows the downside to extending the process for whatever reason to the point that funding under the current Accelerated Bridge Program is at risk. The worst, least convenient, and most expensive problems with the Casey are the unexpected ones. We can worry all we want about how horrible construction will be, but the need for that reconstruction was set in concrete during the Casey's original faulty design. And I have heard no one suggest that a replacement bridge design would have made demolition and reconstruction less painful than a surface road design. It's quite possible the opposite is true (the two bridges would partially overlap, but the new one would be shorter -- you might need similar temporary surface roadways).
Haskell Werlin September 02, 2012 at 10:42 AM
Riding my bicycle was easy on Friday afternoon no problem with traffic Maybe cars are the problem Not the solution
barry vogt September 02, 2012 at 01:46 PM
Tearing down the bridge is just stupid your just creating more problem
William Brokhof September 02, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Well said as usual Michael Halle. 100% agreed. Thanks for the thoughtful, intelligent response.
Jerry O'Connor September 03, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Couple of comments: I rode through the Friday mess as well, but I prefer riding with automotive traffic that is moving at normal speed. Drivers in traffic jams tend to leave less space for bikes, and they tend, understandably, to be stressed out, all of which makes for a less safe and enjoyable ride. The mentality among some cyclists that this serves the cars right (like the very outspoken and combative bike advocate who said: "there's supposed to be [car] traffic, it's the city") is just as unhelpful as a driver that doesn't want to share the road. Second, it is true that Friday's event is wholly irrelevant to the question of how the at-grade, as planned, will operate. However, this rather obvious fact doesn't mean that the at-grade road will work, either, and shouldn't obscure the real issue: plenty of reasonably intelligent and attentive people in this neighborhood have little confidence in the plan or the process. They might be convinced by real analysis from trusted third parties, but instead all they have is what feels like a sales job from an agency that hasn't met past obligations, supported by a collection of issue-driven advocates for various causes. If there was as much attention given by the "advisors" to the people who have made a lifetime investment in the neighborhood as there has been to lofty policies and technical matters in which they are untrained, we'd be able to build a much stronger consensus. This has been a missed opportunity so far.
Lisa Gallagher September 03, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Surface roads stupid stupid stupid. That jam went all the way to Brookline on the Jway. I live on the Forest Hills side of JP. Took an hour to get home.Can't even imagine dealing with that on a daily basis. I teach art and have to carry lots of materials so Dude, bikes are not a solution.
Charlie Denison September 04, 2012 at 01:33 PM
No one has ever claimed that the surface roads in their current configuration would handle all the traffic that currently uses the overpass. Similar fears were expressed when the BU Bridge was under construction that because traffic is bad during temporary lane closures then that the final design which included one fewer lane than before construction will not work either. It's never that simple. The final design for all of these projects is much more sophisticated than simple closing or removing travel lanes while leaving everything else the same. Signals need to be relocated or retimed. Turning lanes need to be added or removed. I recognize that people are fearful of traffic congestion by removing the overpass, but I am confident that the process has been thorough and the design has been very well thought out so that traffic congestion will not be an issue.
Jerry O'Connor September 04, 2012 at 03:41 PM
I wonder if it's worth a try to close the confidence gap here. Here are three reasons I lack confidence in the process: 1. The metrics of the western U-turn don't seem to correspond with the traffic engineering authority I have read re: turning radii. Specifically I am still worried that trucks won't be able to make the turn, at least without changing the design. 2. We have never designed and built one of these "Michigan U-turns" in MA, but the suggestion to consult an experienced and disinterested expert in Michigan, where they have designed and built hundreds, was ignored -- yet we are soliciting advice from a Danish cyclist. Why leave expert input unused? 3. Most of the through traffic happens for 2 hours in the a.m. and 2 hours in the p.m. The suggestion that we allow a more normal pattern of traffic at other times has not received any serious attention, even though planning for it now would be critical and might make a huge difference. Thus, I disagree that this has been well thought out. Can you provide convincing information that these issues (to start with) have been appropriately dealt with? Or that they don't matter? It would help to at least be on the same page as to what the issues are. I caution that the usual response from at-grade supporters has been something along the lines of "those details will get dealt with later." I find that conclusory and unconvincing. To me these are questions that can and should be answered right now.
Kevin Handly September 04, 2012 at 05:43 PM
I was out of town when this occurred but it has been reliably reported to me that not only the Casey Overpass was closed, but the entire Arborway approaching the bridge from Murray Circle (including the down ramp from the Arborway to surface level Forest Hills streets) was closed. This contributed substantially to to the back up of traffic on Centre Street and the Arborway-J-way, and would presumably not occur during planned bridge removal and street reconfiguration activities, or in the post-overpass period. Regarding confidence levels in the plan selected, it is hard to imagine a more thoroughly vetted community input/planning process for any public works project. Of course, any assumptions regarding growth in vehicular traffic that are baked into the road planning process become self-fulfilling prophesies. (If you build for them, more and more cars will come until they reach the maximum tolerable congestion point.) The Emerald Necklace Master Plan posits no growth in vehicular traffic. If we are ever going to get control of the cars transiting our neighborhood, we need to start planning and building as if that were the goal.
Michael Halle September 04, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Jerry, I'm not a traffic engineer, and I wholeheartedly support MassDOT's declaration that the buck stops with them when it comes to designing and building the intersection. However, when you raised the question about turns at the December meeting, I did follow up with MassDOT and looked at the standard traffic guidelines. From MassDOT statements and my understanding of the turns, they can be completed by any of the standard vehicles that would use the roadway. The largest vehicles would use some extra space carved out of a newly-widened sidewalk in front of the Arboretum, which is standard practice for this kind of turn. There is also room to shift lanes slightly to make the turning radii slightly bigger. On your second point, traffic designs are published, analyzed, and standardized specifically to eliminate the need to bring in local experts from other projects. The turns aren't especially complex - Michigan Us sometimes replace all left turns with rights in the intersection. The Casey turns are more like the median U turns on Mem Drive and VFW Parkway in West Rox. The Danish Cyclist you mention was asked for ideas by an advocacy group, not MassDOT, and has no official role in the project. Finally, I know work has been done to consider off-peak left turns. I personally don't favor it -- it makes enforcement harder, increases driver confusion, and complicates pedestrian crossing. We'll see. Coolidge Corner has zero left turns, yet business booms.
Jerry O'Connor September 04, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Thanks, I'd be very interested to see specifics on the U-turn. Do we know that we can get the sidewalk from the Arboretum? What if it snows? How much space is there to spare? What if truck drivers don't think they can make the turn? If we wind up with heavy trucks driving on the Arborway because of any these factors, I'll take no satisfaction in saying I told you so. I hope you are right, but I am unconvinced. I'd like to see the data and I hope it's better than the state's. As for traffic designs, I must disagree. I think that design specifications are there to set standards, not to eliminate the value of professional experience. I am unfamilair with any profession in which experience doesn't matter, and I think that in every project issues arise that are not in the book. That's why, if you were hiring someone to build you a house, you'd hire an experienced builder instead of someone with a book about how to do it. I think that there is no excuse for not bringing in experienced professional know-how. As for the feasibility of alternative traffic patterns, who knows. I don't. I do know, because I live here, that the closure of the overpass for its many repairs during off-peak times doesn't affect us very much at all. On the other hand, making the neighorhood drive around in mile-long oblongs for the rest of their lives is a bit of a burden. That's why it is worth taking a serious look at the proposal -- which we don't seem to be doing. Thanks again.
karen harris September 13, 2012 at 10:29 PM
It is clear that the bridge is crumpling and needs to come down ASAP. Traffic is already a nightmare at Forest Hill.s The traffic jam (that I unfortunately got tied up in) is proof positive that surface roads ain't gonna cut it. There will be tie up in all directions, transit, etc. Don't fool yourselves into thinking surface roads will not lead to a traffic nightmare. Once it's done there's no turning back!!
Sandra Stark December 09, 2012 at 05:09 PM
The traffic now does not reflect the burden created by all the new housing on South Huntington and Centre Streets. There will be hundreds of new cars in the area. Currently we do not have a realistic picture of what is to come.
Michael Halle December 10, 2012 at 04:15 AM
Sandra, The long-term traffic analysis for the Casey replacement project comes from the Central Transportation Planning Staff (CTPS) of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), an independent state planning organization. They are the central authority for planning in 101 cities and towns in the Metro Boston area. Their analysis includes information about both major and minor planned developments throughout the region, as well as population grown and changing transportation and traffic patterns. While some projects like the South Huntington ones may or may not be specifically included, the model includes many projects throughout the region that few other people would even be thinking about yet. The in-process and future Forest Hills development is included. More information is being constantly added. CTPS analysis for Casey includes estimates for 2035 and tacks on something like 10% more traffic just to be sure. There are probably just as many people who argue that CTPS numbers are overestimates than under. The goal of the estimate is to have a design that is neither under-built nor overbuilt. All Casey replacement candidates, including the at-grade and rejected bridge alternatives, used exactly the same CTPS traffic models. If you don't believe that traffic model, you also can't say if a bridge or any other plan should work or not. While not omniscient, it's probably the best we've got.

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