Dot Ave. project gets going; officials say: Be prepared

State and city transportation officials on Tuesday night asked neighborhood residents to prepare themselves for the upcoming construction along Dorchester Avenue as they discussed with the community the plans for the major overhaul of fifteen intersections along the corridor from Peabody Square to South Boston.

As officials from the Boston Transportation Department and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation gathered at Dorchester House, along the route of the long-planned refurbishment, Ernie Monroe, MassDOT’s director of construction, said, “I like to say, ‘making it worse, before it gets better.’ ”

“There’s no way around it,” he added, “we’re going to be tearing up probably five to six intersections at any given time.” Monroe said that project managers will try to avoid work on any two back-to-back intersections to prevent motorists from driving through residential streets to get around the blockages.

Construction is expected to begin as early as this summer on the Fields Corner sections, depending on the progress of other portions of the project. Monroe said it’s estimated the work will last from April through all of 2011. Major work in Peabody Square should take place between early spring and Thanksgiving, he said.

The reconstructed Dorchester Avenue will feature an interconnected traffic signal control system that will allow city workers to monitor traffic flow and alter the timing of the signals to better facilitate vehicles at different times of the day.

Monroe sought to assure concerned residents that no two sides of the sidewalk would be obstructed at the same time, and that McCourt Construction, the company awarded the $15 million contract, will be mindful of pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Work has already begun, he said. Preliminary work laying cable for the signal system and setting up its installation is happening now. Public outreach for the project has also begun, with meetings such as the one Tuesday night making up a portion of a larger effort to inform residents and business owners how their neighborhoods will be affected.

The avenue overhaul, in the planning stages for over five years, was finally made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed by Congress last year. In an effort to revitalize the national economy, the “stimulus bill” as it is commonly called, gave billions of dollars to facilitate state and local construction projects. The influx of federal funding allowed state and city planners to realize the massive undertaking of digging up and replacing fifteen intersections in one of the city’s major corridors in just over 18 months.

One of the areas targeted for reconstruction, where Dorchester Ave. meets Freeport St., is especially in need of renovation, said Patrick Hoey, senior transportation planner for the City of Boston. “It’s very dangerous. It doesn’t process traffic well at all. That was one of the first candidates that we had for reconstruction. It’s not a good working intersection right now; we’re going to completely rebuild it,” he said. Another corner that Hoey mentioned is in need of a makeover is the intersection at Gibson St., which he said was “kind of a free for all” for drivers.

Hoey said that construction will most likely go south to north, beginning at Peabody Square. Work at Andrew Square, however, will occur early in the project due to the heavy amount of work that will take place there. “You’ll see us starting to gear up in the next two to four weeks up and down the corridor,” Monroe said.
When asked about the very real possibility of motorists cutting through residential streets and potentially violating one-way routes, Monroe said that it is difficult to tell what drivers will do, but that he anticipates that they will take shortcuts until they realize that there is little benefit. “It’s just part of life in the city of Boston when we put a shovel in the ground,” Monroe said.

McCourt will work on the project between 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to avoid the evening rush hour. In the morning, work will mostly take place on the southbound lane of the Avenue allowing northbound traffic to get into the city.

A few attendees asked Monroe and Hoey how many local residents would be hired to work on the project. Monroe said that while the ARRA funding and the state’s contract with McCourt mandate that a certain number of women, minority and, “off the street” workers be hired for the project, the company is a “closed shop” and works mostly with union members. Both officials said that the project will meet all qualifications as stated in the contract.

MassDOT hopes to set up a new web page in the next few weeks that will be dedicated to informing the public about the project as it continues. Traffic updates and construction changes should be made available as the project progresses, Monroe said. Currently, massdot.state.ma.us lists some information about the project under its highway section.