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Jamaica Plain bridge project threatens long-promised neighborhood improvements

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  April 6, 2011 02:00 PM

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For more than a decade, neighborhood groups have been working to revitalize part of the Forest Hills neighborhood by turning a derelict former trolley yard into affordable housing, recreational space, commercial space, and an environmentally sound transit facility. But now, just as those plans are finally coming to fruition, the process of demolishing and perhaps replacing the Casey Overpass threatens to undo them.

The overpass, which the Department of Transportation plans to take down in 2013, stands just to the north of the 18-acre Arborway Yard, which once held Green Line trains when the MBTA’s E Line extended to Jamaica Plain. Since the 1980s, the yard has been partially vacant. It serves as a bus lot and a "temporary" repair facility for the MBTA, as well as housing some MBTA offices that are soon to be relocated downtown.

For the past 13 years, the Community Planning Committee for the Arborway Yard, which I chair, has worked with the MBTA to develop a plan to better and more fully utilize the existing land and to balance the need for an environmentally sound transit facility with the opportunity for affordable housing, recreational and green space, and small business development.

This planning process has engaged literally hundreds of residents and business owners, area non-profits, city agencies, and elected officials, with the strong and consistent support of Mayor Menino. Finally, the design is completed and we are literally "shovel ready" to begin construction.

Yet the DOT’s determination that the overpass is beyond repair and needs to be demolished is one of a series of obstacles that have emerged. Just today, the MBTA board voted to deny the construction financing for the Arborway Yard transit facility, breaking the agreement jointly signed in 2001 by the mayor, the CPCAY, and the MBTA that committed the MBTA to build the facility and turn over 8 acres of land to the city for community development. This vote represents a broken promise that leaves us wondering what level of trust we can have in the DOT, which clearly controls the MBTA now, to honestly engage and involve the community in any decisions about replacement options for the Casey Overpass.

The demolition of the Casey Overpass, along with whatever option is chosen as its replacement, will almost certainly delay or terminate any and all community plans for development of the Arborway Yard and all the related community benefits. The DOT will need the use of the yard for at least three years because it is the only open space available for staging areas for the demolition of the overpass and construction of its replacement.

The Department of Transportation and the MBTA have not honored their commitment to the City of Boston and to community residents in the matter of the Arborway Yard. With what measure of trust can the city and its residents enter into new negotiations and dialogue with the DOT? The community is getting a project for which there is little support, the Casey Overpass replacement, but may be losing a project for which there is strong and passionate support — the long-overdue Arborway Yard development.

Henry Allen, the chair of the Community Planning Committee for the Arborway Yard, has lived in Forest Hills for 38 years.

Globe file photo: the Casey Overpass.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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