Both the JP Patch and the JP Gazette posted headlines yesterday quoting the mayor as the latest bridge supporter, despite his administration’s tacit support of the project for the last 14 months.
“Menino said sometimes people have to think outside the box and his vision would have the overpass being rebuilt with green space underneath it,” reported the Jamaica Plain Gazette, paraphrasing the mayor. “That would connect Arnold Arboretum to the Franklin Park, creating one continuous line of green space.”
According to the mayor’s office this morning, the tenor of the mayor’s comments, including a reference to the Casey Arborway Project as the “second Big Dig” were more humorous than serious. Additionally, the office said that the mayor understands that the state has gone through a community process and that he respects that.
Nevertheless, the Boston Cyclists Union is asking local residents to join in a friendly letter campaign to remind the mayor that the at-grade solution has strong support in the neighborhoods. Divisive words at this time have the potential to do harm to the community design process now taking place, particularly when a minority in the neighborhood are rumored to be considering actions to block progress on the at-grade solution. The Mayor’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org and the phone number is 617-635-4500.
In contrast to the mayor’s comments, the Design Advisory Group (DAG) is beginning to dig into the design of the at-grade concept with verve. At the last meeting, DAG members scribbled over large paper plans of the project’s various open spaces, penciling in suggestions for picnic tables and arbors, public art and skate parks, commemorative statues and bicycle desire lines. The Boston Cyclists Union passed along an intersection design from Northeastern University Professor Peter Furth that has proven particularly popular.
It also appears unlikely that the Boston Transportation Department would pull an about-face after attending 22 separate meetings on the Casey Arborway project and never speaking against the at-grade plan.
Nevertheless neighborhood activists were initially angered by Menino’s words when they were posted on the JP Patch website. The Patch story apparently overlooked the mayor’s respect for the decision already in place as it did not appear in the story, and did not depict the mayor’s Big Dig reference as the joke the mayor’s office said it was intended to be.
“Sounds like the mayor wants to drive unimpeded from Boston to Hyde Park and doesn’t want Jamaica Plain to get in his way,” commented JP resident Kevin Handly on the JP Patch website’s story.
“Shocking words from the man who said ‘The car is no longer the king in Boston,’” wrote Liam Sullivan of JP in the same publication. “The at-grade plan *is* thinking outside the box. Rebuilding a highway overpass at Forest Hills is part of the same high-capacity/high-speed auto-centric mindset dating back to the 1950s.”
Bridge advocates also chimed in on the news website.
“As soon as cyclists and pedestrians see the reality of the state’s plan (still coming to light), there will be an erosion of support for the at-grade plan,” wrote David Hannon of JP.
(Here’s the concept so far, let us know if you support it or not. More articles on the project can be found elsewhere on this website.)
Several DAG members are concerned about the possibility of further delays. If the community design process is even slowed by a month, they reason, valuable time to give input on important design decisions will be lost. As it is participants in the DAG are following an aggressive meeting schedule to meet the deadline thanks to previous delays. And, if there is a considerable delay, the project will stall beyond the October 2016 Accelerated Bridge Program spending deadline and be left to search for new sources of funding.
The Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP) does not have a deadline to finish individual projects like the Casey or other bridge repairs. Rather, it has a set deadline when all of the funds within it must be spent, and there are many hands grabbing from the fund. There are 432 structurally deficient bridges in the Commonwealth, including behemoths like the Longfellow Bridge that could certainly run into cost overages. Only 167 bridges have been advertised for repair so far by the ABP.
It’s hard to imagine any scenario in which the near $2 billion in the ABP construction and design fund would not be spent by October 2016, regardless of whether or not the Casey Arborway’s construction has begun by that time.
A change in design would mean delays of at least a year, leaving the future bridge with “continuous greenway” underneath, or yet another design, which would mean by necessity hunting funding in an environment when even the smallest projects can take 5 to 10 years to fund and longer to complete. By that time the aging Casey Overpass could crumble.
By our count, 200 of the comment letters on the Casey delivered by the deadline after the Nov. 2011 MassDOT public meeting were for the at-grade solution, while only 69 expressed support for another bridge. The Boston Globe and Jamaica Plain Gazette both editorialized in favor of at-grade.
Out of respect to the mayor’s opinion, the Boston Cyclists Union is also offering to meet with him and his staff to discuss the details and the reasons why he may want to support it.