State officials said tonight that the delayed Casey Overpass replacement project is just three weeks away from being fully opened to motorists.
Among the improvements for the surface-road project promised for month's end: The restoration of Washington Street in front of the upper side of the Forest Hills T station to a full four lanes. The promise came at a meeting at English High School with bitter and skeptical residents - some of whom tried to re-litigate the decision to replace the overpass with surface roads rather than another overpass.
Officials said that alone will help long suffering riders of buses coming up Washington Street - some of whom now get off at Tollgate Way and walk to the station rather than just sit through several light cycles for their buses to inch their way towards the busway.
And in good news for those long suffering riders, officials said they've found funds to add construction of a canopy over the new bus waiting areas on the upper busway - and a covered walkway from the station to the canopy-covered area.
In bad news for those riders, though, construction of the canopy will likely take another year, until next fall, officials said. In good news, the end of the Washington Street work will let the T park 39 buses near the station entrance, which will let its riders wait under what's left of the old canopy or even in the station itself. In bad news, riders of all the other bus lines will still find themselves competing for space in the tiny shelters the T threw onto the walkways - although moving the 39s near the station entrance will let the T move the other buses a little closer so at least people won't have to walk quite as far, officials said.
Officials said that in addition to opening the newly aligned and built surface roads by month's end, all of the new traffic signals from Washington Street down to the now squared Shea Circle will be tied into Boston's traffic-control center downtown, letting the city monitor conditions and make changes to signals in real time as needed. However, officials cautioned it could take several weeks in the new year to test the new connections and make sure the real-time control systems work as planned.
Officials now say the final cost of the project, now more than a year behind schedule, will be about $86 million - compared to the original estimate of about $74 million. Part of the extra cost is $10.1 million cost of the canopy. Another part of the extra cost - and a major reason for the delay - are the powerful fans needed to vent the tunnel from the main T station to the new entrance across the Arborway; they proved more difficult to procure than state planners had expected. Another holdup: Getting required permissions from the MBTA for some of the work.
Although motorists will be able to use the new roads - and pedestrians and bicyclists the new paths along the roads - work will continue for another year. In addition to the upper-busway canopy, this will include completion of the new station entrance across the Arborway, extensive landscaping and construction of a connection from one of the bike paths to the Southwest Corridor path.
Connecting the new traffic signals to the city system will also let the city begin planning for a pilot dedicated bus lane down Washington Street, Deputy BTD Commissioner Jim Gillooly said. The city wants to experiment with a reversible bus and bicycle lane, coupled with specialized traffic signals between Forest Hills and Roslindale Square to see if that could speed bus rides on the congested street.