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Jamaica Plain's Casey Overpass Will Be Demolished. But What Next?

Alternatives being considered by state, community groups include a smaller, lower bridge or not rebuilding it at all.

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.

Boz April 03, 2011 at 12:24 PM
Though I use the overpass all the time, I'm not that sad about the prospect of it coming down. Closing the overpass would actually make the connection between the arboretum and Franklin Park much easier for pedestrians and cyclists. Right now it's a pretty death-defying act to cross to Forest Hills Street at the rotary. Having said that, I'm interested as to where the traffic from Morton Street is going to go. I imagine the overpass closing would make people seek alternate routes, but which ones?
JP East April 03, 2011 at 12:44 PM
Agreed.
David Hannon April 03, 2011 at 02:30 PM
Hi. [I'm a Forest Hills resident on the DOT's Working Advisory Group- WAG] At this early point in the process, there is no plan as to how the overpass will be demolished, how traffic will move during the demolition/replacement, and most importantly, whether the overpass will be replaced by another overpass or by a surface artery. Remember, 24,000 cars a day use the Casey! (1370 cars/hour during rush hour) My sense is that the DOT would like to see a surface artery rather than a replacement bridge. It would save them @40 million to spend on other projects around the state. I'm not sure how Forest Hills could handle 24,000 extra cars a day, given the currently gridlocked traffic conditions. Please spread the word about the April 6th public info meeting at The Agassiz School. Come early (@6pm) to view DOT displays of various aspects of the project. See you there!
Boz April 03, 2011 at 02:48 PM
Thanks for the info, David. I always wonder in stuff like this, though--do 24k cars use the Casey because they have to, or does the Casey and the easy connection from Morton st. to the Arborway actually draw them that way? Might some of those cars find a different way to go that didn't involve threading their way through Forest Hills traffic if there were no overpass? I honestly don't know. But I don't think it's safe to assume that all those people will continue to take this route if it becomes more difficult.
David Hannon April 03, 2011 at 08:27 PM
Boz, you may be right. The question then becomes, where will that traffic then reroute itself? At the 4/6 meeting on Wednesday, there will be copious traffic studies showing where the overpass traffic comes from and where it ends up going. For now, I am willing to examine all options.
Scotch April 04, 2011 at 02:12 PM
Maybe the "Big Dig" needs a little brother ;-) ! But seriously, I do not see how that volume of traffic could be handled if the Casey were gone. Ever heard the saying "Cheaper to keep her?" Does that apply at all here? The bridge is there, if it's demolished, that's it. It will never be replaced. If the money is not there to fix it right in the first place, then Mr. Hannon's argument that the money saved could to go towards other bridges projects around the state, does not really hold water. Removing infrastructure is NOT the solution. Bridges keep traffic flowing, period. If erecting it made sense back when the volume was ??% lower, then how is removing it now even on the table?
Boz April 04, 2011 at 02:33 PM
I do think we're making a mistake if we think of traffic as a force of nature like a river. Traffic is made up of individuals making calculations about whether to drive and which route to take. The ease of the route affects all these decisions. To use myself as an example, I'm on that bridge at least twice a day going back and forth to my house in Parkside. I take this route because it has very few lights. If the bridge comes down, I'm not going to drive through Forest Hills at all--I'll probably take Green or Boylston to Centre Street, or find my way to Columbus Ave if I'm coming from, say, the Fenway. Or maybe I'll walk or ride my bike more. The ease of traffic flow is drawing me to this particular route. I don't have to go this way to get anywhere. Curious: how has halving the capacity of the bridge affected traffic on either side of the bridge and on the surface streets? (I'm usually going through at off hours, so I really don't know.) This might be a decent predictor of what eliminating the bridge entirely might do.
Michael Halle April 04, 2011 at 03:36 PM
I'm not sure if you're suggesting it, but the existing overpass cannot be fixed: the supports that hold it up ("hammerheads") have a design flaw. Attempts have been made to mitigate the problem for many years, but the bridge must come down. While the bridge is safe, its life is extremely limited. There is funding available in the state now to either replace the bridge with another one or a surface configuration, provided the money is spent before 2016. I have not yet heard any suggestion from the Department of Transportation that cost between the alternatives is a strong motivating force. The primary requirement for the design is that it accommodates the traffic in the area, now and into the future. The advisory group had only met once, and Wednesday is the first meeting for the general public about the project. There's lots to discuss and many issues to consider. My hope is that everyone will keep an open mind about all alternatives and consider them fully based on the information we can determine, and not jump to preconceived conclusions too early. Personally, I'm interested in finding out how much the bridge itself causes traffic problems on the current surface roads. The existing ramps cause turns and merges that are very different than those a surface road would use, and the spacing of the bridge footings constrain traffic in ways that should be avoided if a new bridge is built.
David Hannon April 04, 2011 at 03:57 PM
Boz, Useful observations. Thanks.
Scotch April 05, 2011 at 11:19 AM
Thank you for the clarifications.
Scotch April 05, 2011 at 11:45 AM
@Boz, yes and no. There's a lot of water, and it's got to go somewhere! Wouldn't you agree that most of the other roads are surging their banks during peak traffic hours already? Your alternate routes I think will look a bit different if the bridge comes down. Biking and walking are great alternatives, but not really realistic ones for most people. It's sad (pathetic) really, kids don't even walk to school anymore :-/ .
Boz April 05, 2011 at 12:14 PM
I hear you. Sadly, most people are not going to walk or bike. And yet the ease and high speed of this route draws cars (including mine) over this bridge that might otherwise go elsewhere. Right now if you want to go from, say, Canton to the Fenway, you're taking the bridge. If there's no bridge, you'll find a route that might avoid Forest Hills altogether. I'd go Blue Hill to Seaver to Columbus to Ruggles rather than wend my way through surface streets in Forest Hills to get back to the Arborway/Jamaicaway. I really think the question of how halving the capacity of the bridge has affected traffic on surrounding roads is key to figuring out the best way forward.
Ken Pope April 05, 2011 at 01:00 PM
My fear is that if the bridge comes down, and a surface artery replaces it, our neighborhood (I live in Forest Hills) will become separated from the rest of J.P. Also, I can only imagine that the pedestrian crosswalk to the SE corridor will probably be removed as well. (If 25,000 cars use the road daily, they won't be able to keep all the existing lights). A 'big dig' style tunnel isn't feasible since the depth would have to be great to avoid the T. The Forest Hills Initiative project was supposed to come up with traffic improvement options for the 800+ units of housing that they wanted to build. Their answer was that they 're-timed the traffic lights'. Given their lack of action (or forsight) I can only imagine what they'll do when the overpass comes down. The neighborhood needs to be VERY active in this to keep them 'honest' to their words.
James LaFond-Lewis April 05, 2011 at 02:41 PM
Very interesting discussion here. Take this for what it's worth; I ask the following question entirely as an amateur. Would closing the bridge now serve the purpose of revealing where traffic would go without it? I imagine the immediate effect would be a snarl, but would that snarl payoff in the long run by demonstrating how people adjust over a period of time?
James LaFond-Lewis April 05, 2011 at 02:54 PM
Maybe even the snarl could be mitigated with some advance warning: Bridge closed on xx/xx/2011. Seek alternate routes.

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