Decision time is here on Blue Hill Ave. plan

The community discussion over whether the state’s Executive Office of Transportation (EOT) should seek federal dollars to establish an express bus route along Blue Hill Avenue is now in its fifth month.

It was last May 4 that Governor Patrick announced that he would apply for the federal dollars from President Obama’s stimulus plan to bring a new and improved bus service, dubbed 28X, between Mattapan Square and Ruggles Station. At the time, the Governor’s plan came as a surprise to most people in the community. No one – not the residents who meet in regular civic group sessions, not the merchants who do business along the avenue, not the electeds who represent the neighborhoods – had asked for such a radical new plan.

And at first blush, the notion of restoring a dedicated public transit lane in the middle of Blue Hill, where once street trolleys ran, seemed puzzling, a “back to the future” moment for the neighborhood.

There were questions aplenty, and much skepticism: Would the new busway make traffic worse along the avenue? Will extensive construction result in our own version of the “Big Dig” fiasco that interrupted the North End and Chinatown for years? And who will get the construction jobs the project will create?

EOT Secretary James Aloisi has acknowledged that his office botched the early steps in making the plan known to the community. In a document being circulated this week, Aloisi admits “the 28X concept was unfamiliar to many residents and businesses of the corridor.” He added, “ EOT could have done more to solicit public input prior to the announcement of the 28X initiative.”

But he added, “In fact, the 28X concept was founded on a number of recent transportation and land use planning documents – themselves the products of significant community involvement – that called for improved public transportation in the corridor between Mattapan Square and Ruggles.”

Aloisi has tried to rectify those early, awkward missteps with a months-long reach-out public awareness campaign. Some changes have been made based on community input, and a project advisory group has been formed. Already, EOT has missed one deadline to apply for the federal dollars, but there is one more opportunity to seek the funds, in a competitive bidding process under the Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s TIGER (Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery) grant program.

That deadline is next Tuesday, Sept. 15, and Aloisi says he will submit a request for $140 million for the project.

There remains some disagreement over whether the project is in the long-term best interest of the neighborhood. But credit this transportation secretary and the governor for forward vision in proposing a major public improvement for Blue Hill Avenue. Unfortunately, the local electeds have chosen to seek cover under the vague notion that they will support “what the community wants.”

No profiles in courage there: It’s unlikely that there will ever be a 100 percent consensus among the disparate local interests. People who take the bus to work can’t be expected to attend night-time, after-dinner meetings. If they could drive to them, they might not need to take the bus to work. Typically, it is the naysayers who have the loudest voices. But in this debate, it’s the needs of people who use the buses for their livelihoods who deserve to be heard.

With the Sept. 15 deadline looming, one question must be answered: Do Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury leave $140 million on the table because of some short term traffic congestion?



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