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State opts to replace Casey Overpass with surface roads

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  March 8, 2012 12:30 PM

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caseyoverpassatgrade1.jpg

(Massachusetts Department of Transportation)

A draft rendering above of the proposed at-grade solution. Click here for all of the draft renderings.

This story was revised on Sun., March 11 at 11 p.m. to reflect a date change for the next Casey Overpass working advisory group meeting.

The state's Transportation Department announced Thursday it has chosen to replace the deteriorating Monsignor William J. Casey Overpass, which carries Route 203 over the Forest Hills MBTA station, with a network of surface roads.

Over the past year, a state-selected advisory group to oversee the project’s design process has met a dozen times in addition to five public hearings and a host of neighborhood sponsored meetings that drew sizable crowds and a range of ideas through a process that narrowed the options to two proposals – another bridge, estimated to cost $74 million or an at-grade, or surface-level, roadway network expected to cost $53 million.

In an e-mail to the project's advisory group, state officials said the surface, or at-grade, option makes the most sense.

"That process has led us to determine that the at-grade alternative reconnects the neighborhood, provides more open space, incorporates more design elements that are pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, and allows for more efficient bus movements through the area," a statement from state transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey said.

"The existing Casey Overpass is in the advanced stages of deterioration and is at the end of its serviceable life," the statement added. "Moving forward, the design process will undergo a series of steps to reach completion; MassDOT expects construction to begin in October 2013."

Officials expect to complete the project by October 2016.

The e-mail also said that the Transportation Department has scheduled a meeting with the advisory group at 6 p.m. on March 20 at the State Laboratory Institute building in Jamaica Plain.

There, "the team will present the plan for working with the WAG and community as we proceed with the 25 percent design," the e-mail said, adding that a public meeting is being scheduled for the end of March at English High School in Jamaica Plain.

Over the course of the design phase, the state transportation department says it will continue to work with the advisory group as well as other stakeholders to solicit input as the current plans evolve. As part of the permitting process, state officials say that all planned work will be studied so that measures can be taken to avoid, minimize and mitigate environmental damage.

In September, MassDOT’s project team will schedule a 25 percent design hearing to discuss changes and improvements as part of the ongoing efforts in community outreach, officials said. The state transportation department will also schedule a 75 percent design public hearing.

"After a thorough community process, it is good to see that MassDOT is moving forward on the redesign of the Casey Overpass," said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. "We look forward to working together to foster a design and construction process that will create minimal disruption to Jamaica Plain residents during construction while implementing a new, community-friendly vision for the Forest Hills area."

Supporters of the surface option, including bicycling advocates, have said that removing the bridge and creating an "at-grade" intersection would move traffic nearly as well as a bridge and also would allow for more connectivity, green space, and improvements to the Forest Hills Orange Line station.

Those in support of a new bridge have argued a bridge would allow slightly faster travel and will be used primarily by long-distance commuters causing less congestion for local commuters. They also argue a new bridge could be an attractive addition to the area.

Both options have been expected to improve traffic conditions to about the same level of speed for local trips and projected to take about 36 months to build, the state says. A bridge would be speedier for regional trips by between 30 and 90 seconds at rush hour.

When it was built 58 years ago, the existing 1,650-foot-long, 80-foot-wide bridge was designed to carry four lanes of traffic. Citing its structural deficiency, the state plans to soon knock down and replace the aged-beyond-repair overpass that now has sidewalks along either edge and since fall 2010 has been reduced to two lanes, one in either direction, out of safety concerns.

Replacing the overpass faces time constraints, according to state officials. Namely, they say that the replacement must start to allow enough time so it can be built before the program that will fund the project expires in 2016.

Another cause for urgency: the existing bridge that 24,000 vehicles pass over daily, “is safe for vehicular travel, however we do not know how much longer it will be able to carry traffic,” the state’s top transportation official said in a recent letter.

The state originally planned to announce the selection between the two options nearly three months ago, shortly after the last public meeting was held in late November.

But, the decision was stalled by a group of concerned residents, advocacy groups and local politicians led by State Rep. Elizabeth Malia, a Democrat from Jamaica Plain, and U.S. Congressman Michael E. Capuano, a Democrat from Somerville, who say that data is missing from the state’s assessment of future traffic for the two scenarios. Choosing either option without complete information would be irresponsible, they said.

However, the state has denied the claim that its traffic analysis has holes.

The project is planned to be paid for through the state’s Accelerated Bridge Program, which was created in spring 2008 to work toward repairing or replacing 543 structurally-deficient Massachusetts bridges – 11 percent of the total number of bridges statewide.

For more information about the replacement project's public process, click here.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.
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