And the manner of the response could bode well for how our commonwealth’s new administration views major projects in urban areas
By necessity, WalkUP Roslindale’s focus is primarily on Roslindale Square and its immediate vicinity. But what is now happening with Casey Arborway — the MassDOT project currently underway to demolish the old Route 203/Casey Overpass at Forest Hills and replace it with a network of at-grade streets — also matters a lot. There is no denying that the construction has made the area more difficult to navigate in the short term: the area right now is a mix of permanent and temporary roadways and paths and demolition of the old overpass is ongoing. Ultimately, once completed, Casey Arborway promises a more connected, accessible, and livable Forest Hills for everyone.
For those who have followed the project for the last several years as it wound its way through the public process, the most regrettable outcome has been the bitter split among many politically active players in Jamaica Plain over the wisdom of MassDOT’s decision to go with the at-grade network over reconstructing or replacing the overpass. Since the decision was originally announced in March 2012, Bridging Forest Hills, the anti-at-grade group, has managed to hold itself together even as the project has moved forward through design, final approvals, selection of the contractor, and even commencement of construction this spring. The last move the group made was a petition and direct appeal this spring to Governor Baker to halt the project and consider a new direction. Putting aside the practicalities of doing that at this late stage, we all know stranger things have happened and so those on both sides of the issue were still waiting with some interest to see how the governor would respond.
And so he now has. The text of the email from the governor’s office was recently posted at BFH’s website and it does indeed look like the final word. In a brief but substantive response worth reading in full, his deputy chief of staff touches principally on the level of inclusion and robustness of the public process and the way the project evolved over time. In terms of looking forward and thinking about how MassDOT will evaluate their urban projects in the future (such as the Allston Interchange/Beacon Yards project, about which Renee Loth wrote in today’s Globe), the key passage for me is this:
The at-grade option was advanced because it ranked the highest for all forms of mobility, livability, and long term maintenance costs.
Those 3 criteria — mobility across modes, livability, and long-term maintenance costs — are pretty good measures if you’re looking to boil things down. For way too long we allowed one of those criteria and one mode within it to control decision-making. The Casey Arborway represents a new direction that I hope is replicated more often at all levels of government.