An unaddressed traffic concern: Casey Overpass teardown in 2014

To the Editor:

For thousands of Dorchester and Mattapan residents who work in Brookline, Newton, West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, the Fenway, and the Longwood Medical Area, the daily commute is going to become significantly longer and more frustrating in 2014. That is when the Massachusetts Department of Transportation plans to tear down the Casey Overpass, the half-mile-long long bridge that carries east-west traffic along Route 203 past Forest Hills Station in Jamaica Plain. The 60-year-old bridge, which is reaching the end of its useful life, must come down. But rather than replace it with a new bridge, the state has instead decided to build a street-level highway.

As MassDOT has gone through the process of evaluating and selecting a replacement for the Casey, they have held a series of public meetings, and they have advertised these meetings in local newspapers, including The Dorchester Reporter. Yet still the details of the project remain unknown even to most residents of Jamaica Plain. It is unlikely that most of the bridge’s users, who come from outside the neighborhood, have any idea regarding what the state is planning to do.

In its current form, the Casey Overpass takes traffic from Shea Circle, the rotary at the southern tip of Franklin Park, over the Forest Hills area, to the Arborway. This flyover allows commuters to avoid the daily congestion that clogs up Hyde Park Avenue and Washington and South streets in Jamaica Plain. Under the proposed solution, though, all of that traffic will be diverted to city streets. Rather than traveling around the rotary and over the bridge unobstructed, commuters will face a series of three new traffic lights.

In a traffic analysis provided to MassDOT by McMahon Associates last October, it was estimated that by 2035, the morning trip from the rotary to the Arborway, which currently takes about 0.8 minutes, will be extended to 1.3 minutes under this new scenario. In the afternoon, the drive from the Arborway back to the rotary, currently 0.8 minutes, will become 2.4 minutes. On the face of it, this may seem like a small amount. But for a commuter from Dorchester working five days a week, 50 weeks a year, that adds up to 525 minutes – or nearly nine hours – of additional time spent in a car, burning expensive gasoline, every year. According to that same analysis, if a replacement bridge were constructed instead of a street-level highway, those travel times would not change at all by 2035.

The goals behind this project – removing an eyesore, knitting together communities, and restoring the Emerald Necklace – are admirable. Indeed, no one in Jamaica Plain will be sad to see the monstrous Casey Overpass disappear. Still, residents of the neighborhoods surrounding Forest Hills are concerned. We are concerned about additional vehicular traffic, with the noise, pollution, and danger that will come with it. And we are also bothered by the process through which the state has gone ahead with this project, dismissing many community concerns, disregarding much of the input provided by members of the neighborhoods, and failing to answer direct questions about the quality of the data upon which this project is based.

Although Jamaica Plain is not the only community that this project will affect, few people outside of Jamaica Plain understand what is going to happen and how it will affect their daily lives. Residents of Dorchester, Mattapan, Quincy, Brookline, and other surrounding communities must be made aware of the forthcoming changes. They must be more fully integrated into the planning process, and they must have their opinions and concerns heard. State representatives, state senators, and city councillors from these areas should make it a priority to inform their constituents about these impending changes and convey their constituents’ concerns to the leaders of MassDOT.

Chase M. Billingham, Jamaica Plain