On a dreary, cloudy day, the Casey Overpass looks even uglier. Large brick-red scabs of rust spot the I-beams along its side. The towering concrete supports are streaked with brown and orange runoff. A look up to the underside of the overpass reveals flaking, crumbling brickwork.
Jamaica Plain’s Monsignor William J. Casey Overpass is an eyesore to say the least. But its increasing structural deficiency is what began to worry the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. And now, after 57 years of mounting disrepair, the state is making plans to tear the thing down.
MassDOT has launched a six-month study of alternatives to replace the Casey Overpass, during which there will be committee meetings, as well as forums open to the public. The first of these is public forums will be held in the .
“The project’s been in the works for some time,” says Adam Hurtubise of MassDOT. “We haven’t decided on a course of action yet. One of the reasons we’re having these community meetings is to get feedback from neighbors so that we can develop a repair project that can meet the needs of the most people.”
Neighborhood groups, green advocates, motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians and state officials all have an opinion on what should replace the overpass, whether that be an at-grade redesigned intersection or a new, smaller above-grade overpass.
The current overpass is both higher and wider than is needed, after being built over elevated train tracks that have been long closed. It was recently reduced to one lane each way due to unsafe outer lanes.
However, some community members are unimpressed with the communication so far. Frederick Vetterlein, co-chair of the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association Steering Committee, has attended several meetings regarding the overpass’s future but has yet to see examples of what might replace it.
“I was disappointed that there hadn’t been concrete work done to show up traffic patterns,” he explains. “The process is only six months long and we’re already a month into it. I just wonder when the actual engineering work will be done to show where the traffic is going to go… so we could see ramps or how many surface lanes and traffic lights would be necessary, where the exits are, how the traffic is processed.”
Hurtubise says those concerns “are all things for which we’re soliciting public input.”
Because heavy traffic on the Casey Overpass affects roads deep into the surrounding neighborhoods of Forest Hills, Stonybrook and others, Vetterlein asserts that traffic control needs to be the number one priority in the redesign of the intersection.
“It’s already a mess there – the traffic jams up twice a day and it’s like a giant wall that blocks and separates Jamaica Plain and makes Forest Hills very inaccessible to the rest of Jamaica Plain,” Vetterlein says.
Sarah Freeman, a longtime JP resident on the working advisory group for the project, is hopeful that they will be able to reach a solution that meets the needs the various user groups of the area in a greener way.
Freeman, who also represents the Arborway Coalition, sees the renovation of the Casey Overpass as a way to reconnect a section of the Emerald Necklace and re-open Franklin Park to much of JP. Currently, it is largely cut off from residents due to the size and backed-up traffic of the overpass.
“From an Emerald Necklace point of view, the function that’s needed is to connect the Arboretum with Franklin Park in a way that doesn’t negatively impact other uses but achieves the goal of safe and inviting connection between the parks,” she says. “There are neighborhoods that have ‘their’ neighborhood park and much of JP lost that with the overpass becoming a barrier rather than a connector.”
While generally residents are hopeful about the project, Vetterlein also harbors concerns about the affect a smaller or nonexistent overpass will have if Jamaica Plain continues to grow.
“We are not against taking down the overpass. It would be a beautiful thing to be able to do it, but we want to be convinced that it will work, that this isn’t something that will continue to plague us in the future,” he explains. “There is a vast amount of development that’ll happen in this area. If this overpass doesn’t fit in to a plan for growth for the area, it is just going to continue to be a dividing point.”
For more information, visit the Mass Dot Casey Overpass Project Web site or , April 6, 2011 from 6:30 to 8:30 at the , 20 Child St.