HOW TO replace the aging Casey Overpass, the bridge that carries Route 203 over the Forest Hills MBTA station, is a decision that will shape the surrounding neighborhood for decades. After months of study, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is expected to announce this month whether it will rebuild the bridge, or instead route traffic onto surface streets. But several Jamaica Plain elected officials, including City Councilor Matt O’Malley and State Representative Liz Malia, have asked for a delay of several months, out of concerns that the agency isn’t giving the option of replacing the bridge a fair hearing. Considering the long-term implications of the decision, and the clear lack of consensus in the neighborhood, it’s a reasonable request.
The existing bridge, a notorious eyesore built in the 1950s, has been deemed structurally deficient and will be demolished. Not replacing the overpass holds some obvious advantages. That option wouldn’t just be cheaper - $52 million to redesign surface roads, compared with $73 million for a new bridge - but it would also provide an opportunity to reconnect neighborhoods now separated by the sprawling bridge. The surface plan has the support of bicycle, pedestrian, and parks advocates, and in its public presentations MassDOT also seemed intent on playing up the advantages of the no-bridge option.
But can the neighborhood really handle the extra 24,000 cars that the overpass now carries? Many residents fear the greater traffic could take an unacceptable toll on businesses and quality of life, and are skeptical of MassDOT’s rosy predictions. Malia and O’Malley have asked for a more thorough assessment of the traffic and environmental impacts. Even the analysis presented by MassDOT found that while both a replacement bridge and the on-street configuration would be better than the current traffic pattern, a bridge would be speedier for most trips - sometimes by several minutes.
Ultimately, the no-bridge option may prove to be the best. But local elected officials are right to press MassDOT to give both options a full hearing.