(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2011)
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation updated the Mattapan community Wednesday night a wide range of issues, including the Morton Street Bridge Project, the Casey Overpass Project, and the Morton Street Road Safety Audit.
“There’s a desire to make sure the community is informed,” said state Representative Russell Holmes. “When we have these discussions, we don’t want to leave anyone out.”
At the meeting held at the Mildred Avenue Community Center, the Morton Street Bridge Project, part of the commonwealth’s Accelerated Bridge Program, was the hot topic of the night.
Residents questioned DOT representatives about when the $7.5 million project would start and what the DOT was planning to do with the abandoned police station next to the commuter rail tracks that run under Morton Street.
“It seems that the police station has been the stumbling block of the project, so is that [demolition] going to take place and when?” asked Mattapan resident Livio Poles.
DOT representative Matt Hopkinson explained that because the property is owned by the city and because the DOT is not allowed to demolish those structures, they had to work out a plan with the city, however, a date has not been set for the demolition.
Hopkinson also told residents that preliminary work on the bridge should begin in fall 2012 and residents could expect closure of the bridge in the fall 2013.
With the bridge closing, residents had concerns about the duration of the closure and how emergency services would deal with it.
Hopkinson explained that the project has budgeted extra funds to add additional emergency service vehicles to the area. To combat project delays, the DOT also set up an incentive program that will reward the contractor for opening the bridge early and penalize them for a late opening.
“There is a big incentive for them to open early and we also want them to know we are serious about it opening on time,” explained Hopkinson.
The DOT expects the bridge to be closed for only 10 days and that there will not be an effect on commuter rail traffic.
Along with the Morton Street Bridge Project, another bridge, the Casey Overpass in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, was of interest to Mattapan residents.
The bridge, which was built in the 1950s, is a main thoroughfare for regional traffic and a direct connection for Mattapan and Dorchester residents heading toward Brookline and western parts of Boston.
The bridge is also part of the Accelerated Bridge Program and must be completed by 2016 for funding.
The DOT and residents have been reviewing options over the past year and are confident that they have two good solutions.
The first option is to replace the bridge with another smaller bridge. Although the proposed option calls for only one lane each for traffic, it will allow designers to reduce the overall size of the bridge, and better integrate it with the surrounding neighborhood.
The second option is an at-grade solution that would demolish the existing bridge and replace it with a street level three lane road in both directions.
Although the second option had many Mattapan residents concerned because of the amount of time the at-grade solution could add to their commute, Steve McLaughlin, project manager for the DOT, explained that either option would improve current conditions.
“Both of these will handle traffic better than the existing roadway does today,” said McLaughlin.
In Dec. the DOT plans to release a preferred alternative.
Along with the replacement of the bridge, the DOT will consider how to improve flow in the area through adjustments to the Shea Circle and traffic signal synchronization.
Another major project that is addressing transportation in the neighborhood of Mattapan is the Morton Street Road Safety Audit. Although this project won’t be tearing down bridges, it is a way for the DOT to better understand resident’s concerns about safety on Morton Street and improve conditions.
According to Bonnie Polin, chief safety engineer for the DOT, a recently completed study looked at ways to improve safety through long- and short-term goals.
Some of the short term goals include road maintenance, better pavement markings, and replacing missing signs while long term goals include adding new lanes, signal phasing, and the possibility of a more biker friendly road.
A more cyclist friendly Morton Street excited many in the crowd, especially Noah Hicks.
“Your body is exposed when you are on a bike, and a cyclotrack would make a world of difference,” said Hicks.
The final report from the RSA is expected in early December.