Local lawmakers are calling on state transportation officials to pull back on the proposal for an express busway along Blue Hill Ave. for which the state is seeking a $140 million federal stimulus grant.
The request from lawmakers comes after months of community meetings at which many residents and businesses of Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury greeted with skepticism a proposed transit line called "Route 28X" that would run along dedicated bus lanes on portions of the corridor between Mattapan Square and Ruggles Station.
"At the end of the day, the Executive Office of Transportation did not succeed in winning over the community members," said state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz. Pressing for alternatives, many community members were opposed to tearing up the street for the dedicated busway and the elimination of parking spaces.
Lawmakers, including state Senators Chang-Diaz and Jack Hart, two Dorchester district city councilors, and six state representatives representing Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester, wrote a letter last week to former Transportation Secretary Jim Aloisi calling for the proposal to be withdrawn. Aloisi was replaced on Nov. 1 by Jeffrey Mullan after the state's various transportation agencies, including the Executive Office of Transportation, were combined into one super-agency, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT).
"As you agreed in your letter to us of 22 September 2009, if 'the delegation feels that it cannot strongly support the 28X proposal, and submits a letter to that effect to me, EOT will withdraw the 28X proposal from federal consideration,' " the lawmakers wrote. "This is that letter."
In the letter, lawmakers said transportation officials, if possible, should attempt to revise the request for the grant, from a federal entity formally known as the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, to include suggestions for other transit improvements -- without the busway. "If that is not acceptable, withdraw the TIGER proposal," they wrote.
Mullan told the Reporter that he was waiting to hear back from federal transit officials on whether he can alter the proposal and it was "premature" to say whether the project was going to get pulled. "We're committed to continuing the community engagement process," he said.
He added that the Grove Hall and Ashmont areas remain underserved by public transportation. "We need a comprehensive solution," he said.
The Route 28X project got off to an inauspicious start. At a May press conference at Dudley Station, lawmakers were caught unaware about the project, standing behind Gov. Deval Patrick as he said, "With smart, strategic use of federal recovery funds we can bring rapid transit to some of Boston's busiest bus routes, connecting key neighborhoods and delivering reliable service for tens of thousands of commuters who rely on the MBTA."
"We looked like we knew something about this," state Rep. Byron Rushing recalled. Rushing's office has been in charge of coordination around the letter. Other lawmakers who have signed onto it include state Reps. Willie Mae Allen, Linda Dorcena Forry, Gloria Fox, Elizabeth Malia, Marie St. Fleur, and City Councillors Chuck Turner and Charles Yancey.
Last week's letter to Aloisi called the initial roll-out of the project "deeply flawed and outrageously disrespectful of our constituents. We thank you for the subsequent frank conversations we had with you and we especially appreciate the hard work of your staff and consultants in the beginning to reorient this planning to be driven by representatives of residents, the riders, and the businesspeople of these neighborhoods," lawmakers wrote.
Rushing added this week: "Aloisi, compared to his predecessors, actually turned on that dime pretty effectively."
Aloisi had also earmarked $300,000 to improve the bus shelters at the Mattapan MBTA station, which community residents complained at meetings weren't properly heated. Work on the improvements is expected to start in the spring and finish in the fall, according to Dorcena Forry.
Rushing said the most positive aspect of the community process on the project was the attendance and involvement of the community, which has long felt neglected and betrayed over past projects that have promised better and faster service, in transportation matters.
"That was the best thing that came out of this," Rushing said, adding that he hoped to keep the momentum going.