Questions persist on Route 28 bus plan

Will there be enough room on the route for the proposed Silver Line bus? Will the trees and flowers on the route be torn up and disappear? And what about parking?

Those were some of the questions on the minds of Mattapan residents who attended a Tuesday night hearing at the Mattapan Public Library on a proposal to replace the Route 28 bus with the “Route 28X” Silver Line. The meeting was one of three held this week to gather public input on the project after it was announced in May, to the chagrin of local politicians and community members, who felt left out the proposal’s conception.

The proposal is aimed at improving service and speeding up travel in the busy corridor, from Mattapan Square to Ruggles Station, through hybrid-electric buses and lanes dedicated specifically for them.

At the end of the evening, residents and state transportation officials left without a consensus over whether to push ahead with the plan or abandon it for other options. Transportation officials hope to launch the service by Jan. 2012.

Clinton Bench, a deputy executive director within the Executive Office of Transportation and Public Works, acknowledged there were trade-offs to the project, which is on an accelerated timeline because of its use of $117 million in federal stimulus funding.

“This will make it a little more difficult to use Blue Hill Avenue” for car users, he said.

But the project is aimed at increasing focus on public transit and making it more convenient, he added.

Some parking spaces, including those among the median, which would be turned into a bus lane dedicated to the Silver Line, would removed to make room for the buses. City and transportation officials would work to minimize parking loss, they said.

Some turn lanes would also be removed, along with trees and flower boxes, which would be relocated nearby with community input, according to the proposal.

“If what we’re proposing isn’t what the community wants, we won’t do it,” Bench told the crowd of 50 Mattapan residents near the end of the two-hour meeting.

But he noted that the price of gas will eventually rise to $4 or $6 a gallon, and focus is needed on public transit. “I believe that’s the future,” he said.

Others had different concerns. “I just hope when all is said and done we don’t end up with another Big Dig,” said Yvonne Brady, referring to the much-maligned project that ended with massive cost-overruns and shoddy construction work that led to tunnel leaks.

Asked about setting up an express bus, Bench said, “That’s definitely an option.”

But the fastest way for individuals to get to Ruggles Station would be through a lane reserved solely for buses, he added.

Transportation officials laid out a potential timeline for the “Route 28X” project: If the project goes ahead, the conceptual design phase would last until September 2009, with the final design stage taking place between then and January 2010. Construction would take place between April 2010 and December 2011.

State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, who attended the Tuesday night meeting, noted that no consensus had emerged. “I will support whatever the Mattapan community decides to do,” she said. Forry also pressed for a traffic study on the area and its impact on the local business community.

Ego Ezedi, a City Council at-Large candidate, also attended. “Whatever we do has to be co-signed by the community, period. We all want the type of transportation that is beneficial for everybody,” he said.
An additional meeting at Mattapan Public Library will be held on June 30. More information about the proposal is available at mass.gov/eot/28x.