Cracking the transportation code in Mattapan

When the Patrick administration rolled out a plan to “enhance” the Route 28 bus line along Blue Hill Ave two months ago, it came as a surprise to many civic, business, and political leaders in Mattapan. And the fact that it was not immediately hailed as a major triumph locally was a harbinger of what has followed.

The proposal — which has come to be known as 28X— would replace the current fleet of MBTA buses with newer equipment akin to what is now used on the T’s Silver Line. Parts of the route, especially along the wider stretches of Blue Hill Ave. in Mattapan and Dorchester, would include dedicated lanes and new shelters. The result, according to state transportation officials, would be a faster, better commuter experience that might improve traffic conditions along Blue Hill. It would be funded by federal stimulus dollars earmarked for such projects— an opportunity that would require quick action to prepare and approve the 28X idea.

On Tuesday, state officials told a room of about 50 Mattapan civic leaders that they would postpone the project’s start indefinitely — since after several meetings on the issue, there was “no consensus” on whether the community even wants the new enhanced bus line built. The project, if it comes together in any form, could be funded by a second round of federal dollars, although residents were told Tuesday night that there is no guarantee that the money will come through.

The skepticism and resistance that has greeted this project is a symptom of broader dissatisfaction with public transportation in this part of the city. The speed with which the public was asked to review and embrace the 28X plan was simply too much too soon for a community that has seen its share of inadequate projects in the past.

State officials should not misinterpret this community’s caution and demand for due diligence as something other than what it is. There is a great need for improvements in public transportation on this side of the city. Residents and commuters are entitled to a full analysis of the pros and cons of this 28 plan and a more comprehensive explanation of how this service will augment existing and proposed transportation elements, including the Mattapan trolley extension from the Red Line and the Fairmount commuter rail corridor, which is now being expanded to include new station stops, including one proposed at Cummins Highway.

There is an overall sense that the transportation plan for Mattapan is, at best, disjointed, rushed, and uncoordinated. There is a pressing need for state planners to lay out a more-detailed presentation for how all of these public projects will work in synch to improve the neighborhood’s needs and leave us with a system that will be an asset for generations to come.

The Patrick administration gets credit for turning its focus to this long-neglected part of Boston. It is now time for a coherent transportation plan to be laid out for the full public to review and respond to in a timely way. State officials should start by asking the people who ride the existing bus line, trolleys, and trains what they think of the plan. Let’s get this right.



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