The long and grueling job of rebuilding the network of roads in Forest Hills, where tens of thousands of motorists a day commute to and from jobs in Boston, is finally wrapping up.
More than one year behind its original completion date, state highway officials say the new road system will be mostly done by the end of December. Originally contracted for $74 million, the project was highlighted by the removal of an aging, dilapidated bridge known as the Casey Overpass, creating a broad street-level boulevard through the middle of Forest Hills, with landscaping, separate bike lanes, and signals and other tools to move through the oft-congested intersections.
“All the roadways are going to be in their final alignment. The sidewalks and bicycle accommodations will be available. The signals will be operational,” John McInerney, acting director of the Boston district for the state highway department, said in an interview. “They’ve been pushing it, and a lot of that is to hold to the commitment of [by] the end of 2017.”
Then he leaned back and rapped his knuckles on a wooden table.
To the untrained eye, it sure looks like the highway team will need some luck hitting its deadline. Forest Hills remains a beehive of construction activity, with workers and machines everywhere, some intersections still closed, and barriers and barricades limiting access to parts of the new roads and paths. A central portion of the main strip, the Arborway, still needs to be finished, including final paving, over the next few weeks. And other major components, such as work at the T station, will run well into 2018.
Gerard O’Connor, who lives on the Forest Hill Cemetery side of the intersection, said the work zone looks a bit like a set for a “post-apocalyptic movie.”
But the state and its contractor, Barletta, are sprinting to get the final work done, including an around-the-clock work session last weekend. However incomplete, the end of the major construction is reason enough for some to celebrate.
“That will be just a mental and visual relief to the site,” said Steve Abreu, whose daily commute to downtown Boston involves a bus ride in Jamaica Plain to the Forest Hills T station. “It will be a relief when the street can get back to being what it is — a thoroughfare and not a live construction site.”
Even once the new road is fully in place, there will still be a lot of work to do: landscaping, a new entrance for the T station, and an expansion of the Southwest Corridor Park will take until mid-2018. Barletta is installing a new canopy for the outdoor bus concourse at the T station, a $10 million add-on to the contract that will likely take until the end of 2018. That brings the project total to $86 million, officials said at a public meeting Wednesday, a figure that also includes some cost overruns.
Jeffrey Ferris, owner of a bicycle shop in Jamaica Plain and a community activist, said the state shouldn’t claim mission accomplished with so much work left.
“There will still be a lot of work going down in the next year,” Ferris said.
The project is already well behind schedule. It was originally supposed to be finished in the fall of 2016, but was pushed back a few months because of the massive snowfall of 2015.
Then it was delayed another year, to November 2017, because the state failed to procure large ventilation fans for the subway station.
When it’s all done, the new grade-level street will have three lanes in each direction, with new bike paths and hundreds of new trees lining the neighborhood. The project also replaced a rotary on the eastern edge with an intersection. It removed a major unsightly barrier hanging over Forest Hills, and is adding some green space to the big gap of park space between the Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park.
The road is also a major commuting path between southern suburbs and Brookline and Boston, including Longwood Medical Area.
When the state was planning the project, it acknowledged travel times over the new roads will be slightly longer than over a bridge. State Representative Liz Malia, who opposed the new configuration, said she doesn’t expect much improvement in traffic.
“The day-to-day backups, just because of the volume, I don’t see that going away,” Malia said.
Some in the neighborhood hope bike lanes and improvements to the transit station will encourage commuters and others passing through Forest Hills to get out of their cars.
“That’s up to the city and state to encourage the use of public transit and use of alternative transportation,” said O’Connor, who commutes by bike through Forest Hills nearly every day. “If we open it up and the traffic stays as bad as it is, there’s going to be some pretty unhappy neighbors.”