The community was startled three months ago when the Executive Office of Transportation and Public Works (EOTPW) revealed plans to use federal stimulus funds to build an express bus lane along Blue Hill Ave. The proposal seemed to come out of the blue, and local folks "“ community activists, elected officials, business leaders "“ were caught by surprise.
The plan seemed disjointed, rushed, and uncoordinated, and skeptics had the sense that someone was trying to pull a fast one out of the hat.
Sure, the notion that the state wanted to do something to improve public transit in these parts seemed like it might be something we all could be pleased about, and yet, the devil would be in the details. In short, the state planners were asked to tell us how such a project might go forward, and how the community might benefit from it.
Because of the delays, a first deadline for guaranteed stimulus applications has passed, but a second phase deadline looms next month.
Much to his credit, the EOTPW Secretary, James Aloisi, sent his staff out to the community to explain their plans for the Blue Hill Avenue corridor. Aloisi himself came and rode the bus line, from Mattapan to Ruggles, to see for himself what everyday commuters deal with. He arranged for two public meetings last week, in Mattapan and Grove Hall, and he outlined his ideas and answered questions from the staff of The Reporter.
Calling Blue Hill Avenue a "critical transportation corridor" Aloisi said the EOTPW should have been more forthcoming in releasing details of the plan. Acknowledging local skepticism, he said, "I would say in retrospect they were right, there wasn't a lot of process. In the past, they haven't gotten a straight deal. \We must show residents respect by listening and being patient. We really do care about showing that community respect. In this neighborhood, there's a hunger for better transit, honesty.
"Too often, people see the bus as a second tier in transit." The proposed new service, he said, will "raise the bar" of rapid transit service. "We can make the visual aesthetics of this very pleasing."
The plan would replace the current Bus Route 28 with a streamlined 28x "Express" along the same route. As planned, the center island of Blue Hill Avenue would be replaced by two twelve-foot bus lanes, with service provided by new 60-foot long articulated buses, and the number of "stations" would be cut in half, with approximately a half-mile between bus stops, compared to the current 1/8-mile distance. "Queue Jumps" would allow buses to get ahead of traffic at lights, and, said Aloisi, a new system of "offboard payment" would speed boarding time, shaving five to ten minutes off the current travel time.
"I'm not in the business of selling peaches to people who want apples" Aloisi said. His staff "need to listen, and to work with people in the neighborhood." He said there would be no effect on the ongoing expansion of the Fairmount commuter rail line, which he said will continue. "The state is legally bound to (the Fairmount line) development, but currently working under budget constraints. 28X does not affect (that) line. We need to deal with a lot of stuff in that part of town. We need to prove to people that we can get it right.
Aloisi, who is also Chairman of the MBTA and the Mass Turnpike Authority, acknowledged that "people are hungry for honesty. No wonder people are ticked off. No wonder people don't believe us." But he insists it's necessary to act quickly to take advantage of the federal funds. "We have to get out of the cycle of just scraping by to meet needs" he said. "If we in Boston don't take [the stimulus money], San Francisco or some other place will eat our lunch."