Transit study report expected by January

Officials from the state’s Department of Transportation (DOT) held a meeting at Franklin Park’s golf clubhouse last Thursday to discuss their ongoing mass transit study in the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan. The Roxbury/Dorchester/Mattapan (RDM) Transit Needs Study —launched in January 2011 — will illuminate some of the transit concerns of local residents and to bring some much needed updates to the MBTA resources in the area, officials said.

The study was developed after the failure of the DOT, previously known as the Executive Office of Transportation, to convince locals on the merits of a 2009 plan to construct a dedicated bus lane down the center of much of Blue Hill Avenue, replacing the current route 28 buses with a fleet of longer, 60-foot models. The plan — dubbed “28X” — was hotly debated and ultimately rejected by residents living along the planned route, although some of the same articulated buses have been deployed on the current route.

“Even though the 28X didn’t work out, elected officials asked us to continue using that dialogue to bring improvements to the area,” said DOT project manager Scott Hamwey. “We have expanded that area to include places not within a half-mile of rapid transit on the red or orange lines.”

Thursday’s meeting served to update residents on the results of the study, which has tracked the responses of residents and T riders on some 1400 surveys. Planners also suggested that short-term improvements, such as improved bus stops and faster service, could start rolling in this fall. The MBTA has identified 15 “Key Bus Routes” across its system, for which it has allocated $10 million in federal stimulus funding for improvements. Four key routes are located in the RDM study area: 22, 23, 28 and 15.

Over the past 10 months, the DOT has gathered suggestions from community members and T riders through a combination of survey distribution, information tables at stations, and four rounds of community meetings held in a number of locations across the study area. Organizers also compiled a 26-member panel of community residents to facilitate understanding between locals and the DOT and to offer up concerns of their own. The study is open to nearly every suggestion from the community, according to Hamwey, and concerns would be divided into short-term, medium-term, and long term objectives. Residents have offered up ideas ranging from simply retraining existing MBTA employees to introducing altogether new bus routes and a system of light rail.

“The study area is one of the largest, if not the largest areas of the city not served by rapid transit to Downtown, and it also is an area of very high ridership. So there is definitely a market here to explore some improvements,” said Hamwey.

The study is expected to culminate in a formal report in January. For the rest of the year, planners hope to continue to focus further on specific improvements. Ultimately, state officials hope the study will serve as a “road map” to desired improvements in the study area as funding for transit projects become available.