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Old 01-07-2011, 09:27 AM   #1
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Casey Overpass

The Boston Globe - January 7, 2011
Quote:
Demise of overpass may help reconnect a necklace
State deciding how to replace elevated road, relink parks

By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / January 7, 2011

Even as elevated highways go, the Casey Overpass is an eyesore. The concrete piers are cracked and stained, and the steel deck is a patchwork of rust and rust-colored paint. The jarring road surface always seems to be under construction, and the fragile outside lanes have been permanently closed for stability.

The 57-year-old overpass ? which carries the Arborway, also known as Route 203, between the Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park above Jamaica Plain?s Forest Hills neighborhood ? is literally beyond repair, and state officials intend to tear it down. What they are trying to decide is how to replace it or even whether to replace it at all.

The Department of Transportation is mulling variations on rebuilding, building it smaller, and eliminating it entirely while improving the surface roads that exist in its shadows. As early as this month, state officials plan to present concepts to the community and begin developing a favorite with local input.

The project offers an opportunity not just to remove an ungainly vestige of 1950s highway construction, but to mend a missing link in the ribbon of parks known as the Emerald Necklace. And the state?s approach is an about-face from the era that produced the Casey, when officials intent on building roads bigger and higher for suburban-bound car owners paid little heed to the urban neighborhoods they bisected.

?I want to look at all the options,?? said state Secretary of Transportation Jeffrey B. Mullan. ?We need to do it in a way that respects the neighborhood process, the elected officials, and the city?s desires, as well as our ability to handle the traffic volumes.??

Mullan quoted a favorite line of Mayor Thomas M. Menino?s ? ?The car is no longer king?? ? and said the Department of Transportation is rethinking what he called ?over-engineered?? and ?structure-intensive solutions?? and paying more attention to ?urban context issues,?? in other words, reconsidering the building of hulking, multilane speedways where more modest roads might do.

The state is thinking about similar downsizing at Route 79 in Fall River and the McGrath-O?Brien Highway (Route 28) in Cambridge and Somerville. On Rutherford Avenue in Charlestown, which doubles as Route 99, the state is working with Boston to explore ways to make that partially submerged, eight-lane road into a boulevard more friendly to bicyclists and pedestrians.

Thomas J. Tinlin, Boston transportation commissioner, said the city, like the state, does not yet have a position on whether to replace the Casey, but is waiting to review state data and projections about what the different options would look like and how they would affect traffic. It is clear that the overpass needs to come down, he said, but ?the million-dollar question is what happens in its place.??

The Arborway began as a leafy carriage road, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, to connect the Arnold Arboretum with Franklin Park in the late 19th century. But by 1950, the Metropolitan District Commission officials who had assumed management of the road were less concerned with aesthetics than with beefing up the road for more cars.

In the years before construction of the Southeast Expressway and the Massachusetts Turnpike, the Arborway routinely jammed at Washington Street, not just with local drivers, but with regional traffic trying to go between the South Shore and Cambridge and beyond, creating what the Globe called one of the area?s ?meanest bottlenecks.??

The MDC built the Casey overpass at the same time it expanded Storrow Drive along the Charles River from a meandering parkway to a multilane highway, and it built the Casey big and wide enough to carry double the 24,000 cars that now cross it each day.

During construction, the overpass was praised in the Globe as a marvel of the modern age. The government considered highway construction so important that the builders of the Forest Hills overpass (after its opening, it would be renamed for the late Monsignor William J. Casey) had no trouble obtaining 5,000 tons of steel, even amid a shortage during the Korean War.

Now the Casey is a rattletrap, one of hundreds of long-ignored spans across the state deemed structurally deficient and destined for repair or replacement under a $3 billion Accelerated Bridge Program approved by Governor Deval Patrick and the Legislature in 2008 after a fatal bridge collapse in Minnesota.

As a Band-Aid until the Casey is dismantled, the state closed the outer lane on the westbound side a year ago; the outer lane on the eastbound side closed in the fall. Even with $1.3 million in emergency repairs to the bridge?s pedestals wrapping up, the state will keep the outer lanes closed for the life of the Casey as a precaution, said Adam Hurtubise, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation. He emphasized that the overpass is considered safe.

The state plans to dismantle the Casey and begin work on whatever replaces it in mid-2013. That decision will be the product of community meetings that could begin later this month, Hurtubise said.

State Representative Elizabeth A. Malia, a Democrat whose district includes the overpass, said the community has been concerned because the state has provided few details. But, she said, she is heartened by a pledge from transportation officials to work with the community.

?My concern has been, what is the plan, what?s the reality out here, where are we going, and what?s the process going to be??? Malia said. ?We want to be at the table.??

Malia said it would be difficult to imagine surface roads absorbing all of the overpass traffic without a dramatic reconfiguration.

?I don?t see it, but I will keep an open mind,?? she said.

Julie Crockford, president of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, said that even if the elevated road is only rebuilt on a smaller scale, the change could be a dramatic improvement.

?It?s a wonderful opportunity to try to make the connections between the Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park a better one, a smoother one,?? said Crockford. ?This is an opportunity to get it right, whatever the solution.??

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at emoskowitz@globe.com.
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Old 01-07-2011, 09:52 AM   #2
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Re: Casey Overpass

I wish all Globe articles about infrastructure and development drew on such useful historical context. This was well done, although I wish the author had gone into more depth about the implications for the Forest Hills neighborhood. For example, I could be mistaken, but has there been some recent development news about the city-owned lot on Washington on the north side of Arborway?

I think the best configuration would be an at-grade parkway, with a short underpass below Washington Street (like Comm Ave under Mass Ave), or even perhaps beginning before South Street.
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Old 01-07-2011, 10:38 AM   #3
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Re: Casey Overpass

I like the idea of an underpass, but I doubt it's feasible considering the depressed train and Orange Line tracks it would also have to cross under. That's a pretty deep underpass.

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Malia said it would be difficult to imagine surface roads absorbing all of the overpass traffic without a dramatic reconfiguration.
Get yourself some education Malia, and also take a look at the other roads available. It's not hard at all to imagine some alternative routes. Many people using the Casey are heading between downtown and Dot, but Rt. 28 is just as reasonable an option. If a reconfiguration makes it difficult to handle 28,000 vehicles per day, the Dot/Downtown cars will go elsewhere, leaving adequate capacity for the people who legitimately require that route (Dot-Brookline, Dot-Longwood).

That said, I'm not necessarily opposed to building a new overpass, just not convinced it's needed.
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Old 01-07-2011, 10:49 AM   #4
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Re: Casey Overpass

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Originally Posted by HenryAlan View Post
I like the idea of an underpass, but I doubt it's feasible considering the depressed train and Orange Line tracks it would also have to cross under. That's a pretty deep underpass.
I hadn't thought of that. Could Washington and South streets conceivably pass under a surface Arborway, in that case?
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Old 01-07-2011, 12:07 PM   #5
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Re: Casey Overpass

That would be tricky, too. South St. is pretty narrow as it approaches the intersection. There wouldn't be enough room for the non-through traffic. Although, maybe I'm too rigid in thinking about this. I suppose you could shift New Washington St. closer to Forest Hills, then use the space directly bellow the current bridge as a spot to start the incline. That might work. I'm less sure about the other end, where Washington crosses New Washington, but maybe something involving re-routing the street through the old Arborway yard would work.
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Old 01-07-2011, 12:19 PM   #6
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Re: Casey Overpass

Here's a rough idea of how that might work.

http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?hl=en...587e10f82ae33a

I have no idea whether this leaves enough room for reasonably sloped inclines. And the loading area for the 39 bus would have to be re-located, too, closer to the entrance to the main station.
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Old 01-08-2011, 01:25 AM   #7
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Re: Casey Overpass

24,000 vehicles per day is more than doable for a four- or six-lane surface road. Tear the sucker down and call it a day.
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Old 01-08-2011, 01:34 AM   #8
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Re: Casey Overpass

Tear it down. There shouldn't even be a question about this. Four and five dollar a gallon gasoline is on the horizon. Invest in transit instead of lame, ugly highway overpasses.

An underpass would be an equally heinous waste of money. Transit, not highways.
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Old 01-08-2011, 01:21 PM   #9
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Re: Casey Overpass

I'd like to see the bridge go away too, but I'm concerned about the impact of possible traffic gridlock on the very busy bus station directly below. The 39 is one of the most popular in the whole system, and lots of other frequent buses run south on Washington Street and Hyde Park Ave.

(And before someone brings up the subject, a street-running E line would face the same traffic issues as the 39)
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Old 01-08-2011, 03:44 PM   #10
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Re: Casey Overpass

Why not an elevated green line extension on a modern concrete elevated rail bed over the streets?
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Old 01-08-2011, 09:44 PM   #11
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Re: Casey Overpass

Seriously? That would clobber the entire Centre-South streets commercial strip through JP. No way.
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Old 01-09-2011, 01:19 AM   #12
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Re: Casey Overpass

Like I said, a four-lane road (or six-lane road with dedicated bus lanes) would more than adequately absorb the capacity from a torn down viaduct. Many major four-lane roads carry upwards of 40,000+ vehicles per day without any problem approaching gridlock. Why would this be any different?
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Old 01-09-2011, 03:58 PM   #13
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Re: Casey Overpass

The issue here is the large number of busy intersecting roads -- Arborway, South Street, Washington Street, Hyde Park Ave, plus three separate busy MBTA busways and the Southwest Corridor ped/bike path.

Believe me, I'd like to see the viaduct gone as well, but this needs to be done with great care and planning so that it doesn't cause major delays on lots of important bus lines.
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Old 01-09-2011, 06:55 PM   #14
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Re: Casey Overpass

How about a bus viaduct, with cars in the shadows?
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Old 01-09-2011, 07:23 PM   #15
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Re: Casey Overpass

No bus route goes over the viaduct now. All buses in the neighborhood terminate at Forest Hills Station (in 3 different busways). Any possible gridlock would hit the #39 worst, but it would have some effect on all of the others.
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Old 01-09-2011, 09:45 PM   #16
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Re: Casey Overpass

Why not just enable the busses to trigger a green light? That would be a lot cheaper and less impactive on the area than an elevated highway. There would be plenty of room for bus-only surface lanes with green-light priority.
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Old 01-09-2011, 10:07 PM   #17
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Re: Casey Overpass

Or just use buslanes and such. Maybe with a Harvard style underground bus station.
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Old 01-09-2011, 10:08 PM   #18
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Re: Casey Overpass

Definitely a good idea. My main concern is that buses not get caught up in traffic that backs up for blocks (which would make this action insufficient and ineffective).

[that was a reply to Charlie_mta, not to jass]
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Old 01-14-2011, 10:35 AM   #19
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Re: Casey Overpass

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Originally Posted by omaja View Post
Like I said, a four-lane road (or six-lane road with dedicated bus lanes) would more than adequately absorb the capacity from a torn down viaduct. Many major four-lane roads carry upwards of 40,000+ vehicles per day without any problem approaching gridlock. Why would this be any different?
The surface roads are already pretty clogged with traffic. As somebody who lives in the area and uses all forms of transportation on my way through it, I'd like to see a more rigorous analysis. The overpass really doesn't bother me, to be honest. The real problem is the blight surrounding it.
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Old 01-15-2011, 12:34 AM   #20
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Re: Casey Overpass

What are we talking when we say "clogged with traffic"? I cannot see a four-lane surface street running through two intersections causing exponentially more issues than there are already. If anything, I think you'd be shocked at how uneventful tearing down that overpass would be.
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