The first delay requested before the original Dec. 12, 2011 deadline for announcing the state’s decision was requested by state Rep. Liz Malia and several other elected officials to provide more time to analyze the two options. MassDOT granted the delay and set a new meeting time for the week of January 16. But now that this deadline has passed, and based on the Jamaica Plain Gazette’s publishing schedule (where a notice two weeks prior to any public meeting would have to be posted) the next possible meeting date for the announcement would be February 14 or later.
The reason for the new delay, according to officials close to the project, is the need for more time to meet Malia’s demands for information. One of Malia’s requests being met by the design team is to have the traffic study that was originally performed by MassDOT and the state’s Central Transportation Planning Staff reviewed by an outside traffic engineering firm. But Malia has a host of other concerns.
According to Malia herself, who met with the Union and several other at-grade supporters last month, nearly every aspect of the at-grade plan is deeply concerning, including traffic capacity, air quality, safety, bus schedules, pedestrian crossings, and more, but one of her main problems with the process, she said, was the beginning of it. She said she had not been told it was occurring soon enough, and that people she thought should have been on the Working Advisory Group (WAG) were not allowed to have official seats on it.
In particular, Malia named Karen Payne as the person she thought should have been involved, a longtime friend and associate of Malia who ran against state Rep. Russell Holmes for the 6th Suffolk seat in 2010 with Malia’s endorsement, but lost by 10 percentage points. Payne appeared at only a few of the 12 WAG meetings and six public meetings on the project, though they were open to the public and well advertised.
Delays to the process are vexing to many following the process closely, as they feel the opportunities for having significant input on the next stages of design, known as the 25 percent and 100 percent design phases, are beginning to slip away. Construction on the project must begin in 2013 in order to be complete when the Accelerated Bridge Program’s funding runs out in mid-2016.
Currently, the two options might be considered to be at about 15 percent design. When a project gets to 25 percent design, a solid concept for all the design elements is on paper. Whichever Casey option is chosen would still need a great deal of detail added to bring it to 15 percent, most notably how to fill the two to three acres of open space that will be created by either plan, how cycletracks and paths would be configured, and what traffic calming measures could be applied, such as raised crosswalks or speed tables.
Six members of the WAG have also proposed what essentially amounts to restarting the design process with a new goal of making a third option: a presumably wider bridge that would handle more traffic faster. Instead of using the design goals created by the WAG, they argue, a new third option should prioritize traffic flow over other concerns like creating open space.
According to several MassDOT presentations and the traffic engineers who created the two plans, however, both the bridge and at-grade options would improve traffic flow over today’s bridge. The performance difference between the two would be the limitations on left turns in the at-grade solution, which would likely apply only during rush hour just as they do on other parts of the Jamaicaway.
The letter also accuses the MassDOT team of withholding information: MassDOT has not responded to our concerns and has shut down communication with the WAG, so we are appealing to you. In particular, this is a claim that many other members of the WAG on both sides of the debate would disagree with.
Currently, many of the at-grade supporters on the WAG are appealing to their elected officials and the Governor to put a solid deadline on the decision so that the process can move forward. You can too.