State officials said tonight the Casey Overpass demolition begins in earnest this weekend, when crews shut off the side heading towards Jamaica Pond and begin diverting traffic onto the new temporary surface road they've built.
Next weekend, the other side of the overpass, towards Morton Street, will be shut, which will be followed by seven to eight months of demolition of the aging hulk of a bridge, followed by more than a year of construction of new permanent surface roads and bike paths. The project will also include turning Shea Circle into a signalized intersection.
At a construction-update meeting at English High School, officials acknowledged that Mother's Day weekend is one of the busiest of the year at the neighboring Arnold Arboretum, but said arboretum officials expressed no concern about the changes - which were delayed earlier this year by all our snow.
Most of the immediate changes that people who travel around the overpass will see once both sides of the overpass are shut will happen along the side where Washington Street turns into South Street as it crosses New Washington Street.
Crews will block off the sidewalk on the train-station side of the road - pedestrians who want to walk from the T up South Street will first have to cross the street.
Motorists will no longer be able to turn left onto South Street from the Arborway. And as they head towards what used to be the overpass from the Jamaicaway, they'll have to decide between a right lane, which will put them onto Washington Street and a left lane, which will carry them along the new temporary road to Shea Circle.
Bicyclists trying to head into Roslindale from the Southwest Corridor or Franklin Park will have to cross South Street, then follow the bike lane south.
All of this could have been dealt with in roughly 15 minutes. As with past such construction-update meetings, however, the people who want the overpass replaced with another overpass - or just left as the existing overpass - attempted to turn the session into a rally for their side, complete with signs, exhortations by one speaker after another and attempts to shout down and ridicule anybody who actually thought the project is a good idea.
Jeff Ferris, the leader of Bridge Forest Hills, accused state officials of trying to hide costs when they acknowledged the $71 million price tag for the overpass work does not include another $10 million worth of work at the Forest Hills T station, which will include new berth areas for the 39 bus and school buses and improvements to make the station more accessible to the disabled.
Ferris said state officials should be proud of their project, if they really believe in it. "Where's the pride?!?" he yelled. "Where's the pride?!?" State officials asked him to let somebody else speak before he could start yelling "Attica! Attica!"
City Councilor Charles Yancey rose to announce the City Council will hold a hearing on the overpass project - long after state officials announced their final plans for dealing with the fact the bridge is falling apart. While Yancey emphasized he does not necessarily believe people in ambulances heading to the medical area from Mattapan and Dorchester will die in traffic, he feels it's a question worth exploring - and that he will demand answers from city emergency-services and traffic officials.
Other pro-bridge people demanded state officials alter the electronic signboards that now alert people as far away as Dedham about the Casey "work," because it's not "work," it's a complete "demolition" and motorists should know that - and be told electronically that the work will take two years and that the overpass will be gone forever. One woman even figured out how to say all that in the limited number of characters allowed on a flashing signboard.
State highway officials said they'd take a look at that but cautioned they probably won't tinker with statewide guidelines for how to alert motorists to work zones they might soon drive into - and that the average motorist is not going to care how long the project will take, only that they're about to head into it.
A Mattapan resident said she was upset to learn about the project so late in the game and said state officials still are not doing enough to notify residents of areas such as Mattapan and Dorchester about the project.
Ferris waved a copy of the legal notice for tonight's meeting in the Bay State Banner and showed it to a young woman in the audience, asking her "Can you read this?"
Unfortunately for Ferris, she answered "yes."
Unlike at some past meetings, a number of people did rise to support the project, saying they can't wait for the new bike paths, sidewalks and parkland its completion will bring.
But they sometimes had to make themselves heard over the boos and harrumphs of the anti-bridge crowd. When Pete Stidman, president of the pro-surface Boston Cyclists Union, said he had lived in JP for eight years, one woman yelled "Dude, take your eight years and go somewhere else! We've been here 30 years!"