Opinion

The Podium

Casey Overpass plan is flawed

Repairs to the Casey Overpass in 2010. Pat Greenhouse Photo/Globe Staff)
The Boston Globe
Repairs to the Casey Overpass in 2010. Pat Greenhouse Photo/Globe Staf

If the bureaucrats at MassDOT have their way, the aging Casey Overpass in Jamaica Plain will not be repaired or replaced by a new bridge even though it connects Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan to Jamaica Plain, Brookline, and the Longwood Medical Area, moving 24,000 vehicle trips per day over and through Forest Hills.

Under their plan, no new transit will be provided. The east-west traffic, with four new signalized intersections, will be on the ground, mixed with the 12,000-14,000 north-south vehicle trips per day. A convoluted system of ”median U-Turns” would deal with a ban on all left turns. MassDOT intends to open bids on Aug. 5.

MassDOT’s refusal to construct a new bridge is a grossly mistaken policy decision as MassDOT stretches for potential reductions in long-term maintenance costs that are decades away, at the expense of improved regional transportation and local quality of life for the residents and businesses of Forest Hills.

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Claiming that the overpass cannot be repaired, MassDOT has led the public to believe that it must come down before it falls down, but a 2008 report by the engineering firm Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger, Inc., concluded that placing the east-west through-traffic at ground level would produce gridlock. It also recommended that the Casey should, and could, be repaired. MassDOT claims that its 2010 Bridge Rating Report proves the need to raze the bridge, but the report does not substantiate that claim.

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MassDOT represents that its “planning study” process was “robust” and “transparent.” But this is far from true because MassDOT’s own documents, obtained through Public Records Law requests, show that MassDOT had the predetermined goal of an at-grade plan. T

Moreover, MassDOT’s “planning study” did not include a bridge-repair alternative and presented only one at-grade and one new bridge solution in any detail.

MassDOT’s documents also show that the Menino administration — in on the planning from the very beginning in 2010 — quietly acceded to MassDOT’s surface road scheme.

MassDOT has claimed that traffic will work the same with, or without, a bridge but it is inconceivable that competent engineers would be unable to develop a bridge alternative that would provide better levels of service — for all users — than the at-grade plan offers.

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A new study is needed to develop reasonable alternatives for this project. Such a study would: produce better traffic operations and higher levels of service for all users than the minimally “acceptable” level of service of the MassDOT plan; not overemphasize benefits to cyclists (less than 5 percent of traffic); and consider seriously the impact of doubling the travel time through Forest Hills upon those coming from, and to, Mattapan and Dorchester.

Yes, it would be somewhat cheaper to not build a bridge. But potential dollar savings come at a human cost. Drivers from Mattapan and Dorchester will be penalized. Those without transit or bike options will be stuck on the surface competing with local traffic. Local residents will have to endure the polluting effects of increased vehicle idling at four new intersections.

Yet the difference in cost between a new bridge plan ($73 million, according to MassDOT) and the at-grade scheme is only about $11 million.

In his campaign for mayor, Marty Walsh delivered announcements to Jamaica Plain residents that MassDOT’s planning process was flawed and that a moratorium is needed to allow the neighborhoods to be impacted to participate in a fair evaluation of all reasonable alternatives.

Now that he has been elected, Mayor Walsh has the duty to demand that moratorium. He has the right — and the obligation — to have his own people evaluate the situation. He should not rely on the attitude of the previous city administration, which acquiesced to MassDOT at the expense of access and the quality of life.

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Governor Patrick should join Mayor Walsh in calling for this moratorium and not leave this flawed MassDOT project as his legacy in Boston.

Cranston R. Rogers, a retired engineer, is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Kevin F. Moloney, a Jamaica Plain resident and retired attorney, was a member of the MassDOT Casey Overpass Project Working Advisory Group and its Design Advisory Group.