That 28X proposal: The beat goes on

The future of Blue Hill Ave. and the fate of $140 million in federal funds remains unclear after a Monday meeting at which elected officials and community members once again voiced their disapproval of how the neighborhoods along the Blue Hill Ave. corridor have been treated by the Patrick administration’s top transportation officials.
A collection of elected officials from the State House and City Hall vowed to oppose Route 28X – a proposed transit line that would run along dedicated bus lanes on portions of the corridor between Mattapan Square and Ruggles Station – unless the Patrick administration offers a commitment granting the community greater input in the ongoing planning process.

“If we do not get an iron-clad promise, then we will ask them not to send in this proposal, or to withdraw anything they already sent in,” state Sen. Jack Hart said at the meeting. On Tuesday, Hart and the others learned that the state had applied for the federal funding for the project.

The lawmakers – including Hart, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, state Reps. Linda Dorcena Forry, Gloria Fox, Byron Rushing, Willie Mae Allen, Marie St. Fleur, Elizabeth Malia, and City Councillors Charles Yancey and Chuck Turner – said they met with state Transportation Secretary James Aloisi last Friday morning – hours before Aloisi announced his intention to resign at the end of October – and secured his verbal commitment to increase community involvement if the plan gets the funding from federal authorities.

Earlier this week, a letter given to the lawmakers by Aloisi did not contain specific language committing the state to ongoing cooperation.

“We did file it [the application for federal funds] and of course we continue to collaborate closely with the legislation delegation and continue our community engagement on the project,” Aloisi spokesman Colin Durrant said in an e-mail to the Reporter on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Hart said that the lawmakers had extended their deadline for a commitment from EOT to noon yesterday. The legislators will request the funding application be withdrawn if a commitment is not made, he said.

In the latest in a series of community meetings since the 28X plans were announced in the spring, residents from Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury expressed their nearly unanimous disapproval of what they see as a poorly designed plan that is being forced upon them in order to take advantage of federal stimulus dollars.

Due to this intense backlash, the state’s Executive Office of Transportation was forced to delay funding applications to allow for more time and dialogue with residents. Tuesday was the deadline to apply for a $140 million grant from a second source, the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program.

The TIGER grant program is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal government’s stimulus package. A total of $1.5 billion will be granted to projects nationwide at the discretion of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The list of suggestions and alternatives to improve transportation in the area was rivaled by the list of complaints residents expressed about how the process has gone thus far. The lack of environmental, safety, traffic, and other studies was among the criticisms leveled at Aloisi.

Other suggestions for improvement offered by neighbors crowd included signal prioritization, an off-bus payment system, and increased frequency of service.

St. Fleur was frank with the crowd about the risk of abandoning the cash-strapped state’s only shot at Washington’s $140 million offering. “Should we just say no and not have any further conversation?” she asked. “Let’s at least leave the door open to opportunity and if we don’t get to where we need to get, then shut the door,” she said.

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