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What the JP Gazette Will Not Report on the Casey Project

Two recent JP Gazette articles on the Casey Overpass Project have been incomplete at best and could be called bad reporting.  Letters to the editor attempting to correct and clarify were not printed.  Here are the facts:

“Casey project timeline delayed (Nov. 22)” implies that MassDOT's Casey Arborway project to remove and not replace the bridge in Forest Hills is behind schedule because of Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) review of the proposal to destroy Shea Circle, a National Register-listed historic resource.

Shea Circle historic review:  MassDOT, not MHC, is causing the delay.

1. It failed to follow state regulations that say “notice should be given to the MHC as early as possible in the [project] planning process.” MassDOT waited until it finished planning and was into design to notify MHC of its plans to obliterate Shea Circle, pretty late for MHC to comment effectively.  How strange that MassDOT, always claiming time was critical, did not take obvious steps to avoid delays with MHC’s review.

2. MassDOT dragged its feet responding to MHC’s requests and again did not follow regulations to begin resolving issues within 15 days of MHC’s ruling (Jan. 8, 2013).  MassDOT waited five months to communicate with MHC.

3. In June 2013 MassDOT ignored MHC’s requests for new alternatives to avoid impacts to Shea.  At MHC’s Aug. 23 meeting, MassDOT still had nothing new to present, but committed to providing the requested material “in two weeks.” It was finally delivered three months later on Nov. 20.  Now, tell me—who is responsible for the delays? It looks to me like it’s MassDOT.

MassDOT Waffles on Source of Project Funding
"Casey funding source named; historic review pending” (Dec. 6 article) reads as if Gazette reporter Rebeca Olivera didn’t attend the Nov. 19 DAG meeting.  The article states MassDOT is “actively exploring the use of funds from a state bond bill.” Yet at the meeting MassDOT representative Steve McLaughlin emphatically stated “we have the money” and “what difference does it make” what the source of the money is?  It matters because:

1.  MassDOT wants to advertise the project now and seems to be scrambling for funding. MassDOT’s months of claims it has plenty of money are now dubious and leaves one wondering what else is not as MassDOT claims.

2.  After repeated requests to explain why non-Accelerated Bridge Program funds were being used,  McLaughlin finally said, “So we can go beyond the 2016 [Accelerated Bridge Program] deadline.”  The Gazette’s failure to mention MassDOT’s version of the funding issue was contrary to that stated at the meeting is bad reporting and allows more the shading of the truth that has characterized the Casey project.

3.  This last fact is critical:  MassDOT stated Nov. 19 construction will be done Sept. 30, 2016, “at 5:00 p.m.”  Then it said it wants outside funds so it can “go beyond the 2016 deadline.”  What’s the truth?  The reporting of the Nov. 19 meeting omitted key facts that make a difference.

Truth about how MassDOT misled the public about Shea Circle revealed. An independent state agency—one not controlled by Gov. Patrick—has exposed the charade run by MassDOT’s Casey Overpass team involving Shea Circle, a National Register-listed historic resource. 

1.  During the planning study, MassDOT never revealed to the WAG and public that Shea Circle is a historic resource and that it’s obligated per CMR 950 71:07 to “eliminate, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects.”  The status of Shea Circle is listed in a public-access database on the Mass. Historical Commission website. A professional could find out its historic status in 7 minutes.

2.  Further, MassDOT maintained for 11 months it had “consulted with” MHC and had done preliminary outreach and implied there would be no problem eliminating Shea Circle. None of this was true. MHC does not engage with a proponent until it receives an official submission for review. That submission was the ENF, filed in Nov. 15, 2012. MHC responded on Jan. 8, 2013. 

3.  On May 22, 2013, MassDOT said, “The effect finding has essentially been made; it’s the mitigation that we’re doing now.”  MassDOT was ahead of itself, saying what it wanted people to hear.  None was true. MassDOT did not submit materials requested in January to MHC until June 21, 2013. Further, it ignored MHC’s request to “reconsider and further explore alternatives to avoid  or minimize the adverse effect to Shea Circle” instead reiterating its plan to eliminate Shea Circle.  MHC did not ask for mitigation—it would be premature.

4.  Finally, MassDOT misled the DAG again when it said on May 22, “MHC didn’t want to have a meeting at which the public comment was negative because the design had changed...and that’s why they are comfortable working through this process with you and letting the design move ahead a little further.” (emphasis added). The regulations (CMR 950 71:07) call for the proponent to communicate with MHC as early in the planning process as possible, and MHC commented that it “is concerned to note that  MassDOT has progressed to 75% design—a fairly advanced point to be at, without having consulted with the MHC regarding adequate consideration of alternatives.” (emphasis added).  MHC wants alternatives at this point, not mitigation. 

At the initial consultation meeting on Aug. 23, MHC made it clear again it wants alternatives that would avoid or minimize impacts to the historic Shea Circle. MHC stated the fact that Olmsted designed an intersection is irrelevant because the Circle is in the National Register. 

Questions: Why didn’t MassDOT reveal that Shea Circle is historic for six months?  Why the lies and secrecy about Shea Circle designs?  Doesn’t MassDOT know the regulations?  Why the delay consulting with MHC if this project is such a rush job?  Stay tuned . . .