Southwest Corridor taking shape
CONSTRUCTION of the nine-mile Southwest Corridor, cutting a swath through a large section of Boston, has caused traffic and parking hardships for many who work, go to school, or live in that secion of the city. But the project is beginning to look like a transit system. New rail lines, what are now clearly transit stations (nine of them), and the walls of the submerged route are clearly visible. Actually, the corridor provides a new public transportation route for three rail systems - local, commuter, and Amtrak.
When the Southwest Corridor Project is completed, bricks, steel, and concrete blocks will be combined with art, landscaping, community development, and economic enterprises to create not only a shortcut transportation route through Boston, but projects ranging from a college and midsized office complex to department and discount stores and a small shopping center.
All this activity is part of a $791.6 million construction effort, said to be the largest in Boston history, one that means new or expanded business enterprises, modernized crosstown transportation for both commuters and local riders, and a rebuilt series of communities from the Back Bay through Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and Hyde Park.
When the rail sector of the corridor is completed - target date is October 1986 - a major portion of the city will be changed.
* Trains will be running along the new Southwest Corridor within one year. These will include the Orange Line of the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) along a new, nine-station route replacing the elevated tracks that move passengers from the Cove Street Station to Forest Park; a commuter line that brings riders to Boston from suburban areas such as Stoughton, Franklin, Needham, and others; and Amtrak, the national railroad, which is increasing its business along the East Coast.
* The elevated track along Washington Street will be torn down.
* Redesign and renovation of Washington Street will be planned. It will include revitalization of two heavily commerical areas along the current Orange Line, the Dudley Square complex and Egleston Station.
* Also to be developed are 143 acres bordering the corridor.
* A crosstown transportation route will be built, connecting downtown Boston with the new Orange Line.
* A new parkland area also will be developed.
Included in these developments will be a cultural effort, Arts in Transit, on contract to Urbanarts, Inc., and an affirmative action-equal opportunity program monitored by the Contractors Association of Boston (CAB).
The Southwest Corridor Project is ahead of its construction schedule and from manager. Most of these funds are provided by the federal government through the Urban Mass Transportation Administration of the US Department of Transportation. Although rail construction is moving smoothly, no final plan has been presented for the commercial, housing, and industrial aspects of the corridor and its satellite communities.
''People have speculated and made demands for what they want in the corridor and along Washington Street,'' Mr. O'Leary says, ''but not much has happened beyond the talk stage. Now that people see the project going up, they expect action.''
The first action will be a series of public meetings in the abutting communities in early 1985, explains O'Leary.
''We shall work jointly with neighborhood groups on what to do with available parcels of land and how to handle current business districts such as Dudley Station,'' he says.
The MBTA will work with the BRA, the city's planning agency, and with various community organizations to create a working plan, O'Leary says. ''Then we'll begin to implement these ideas.''
The Southwest Corridor Project is the outgrowth of what started out to be a new interstate highway (I-95) through Boston plus a crosstown inner-city road (the ''inner belt'') connecting the proposed highway with the Southeast Expressway through Roxbury. The state began to clear land for the crosstown road in 1966, but residents of the abutting areas began to protest.
''You are ruining our neighborhoods,'' community leaders declared. ''We don't want the highways.''
Former Gov. Francis W. Sargent dropped the highway project in 1972. As the federal government decided to help local public transportation, the idea of the new Orange Line was included in a package that also included both commuter rail and Amtrak.
Public hostility toward the corridor has subsided in recent years, says Dee Primm, Roxbury resident once outspoken against the ''evils'' of the development - abandoned housing, displaced people, and disrupted communities.
''Now that transportation facilities are about to be updated and rerouted, we can talk about economic development around the Orange Line,'' says Mrs. Primm, currently planner-liaison for Roxbury with the corridor administration. ''I see an office complex, a hotel, a major department store, a discount outlet, a new community that can serve the entire Boston community.''
She lists these as part of Parcel 18, an area around the new Ruggles station that will replace the Dudley Square station on the elevated line, the second-busiest rapid transit station in Boston. Many of the city's black entrepreneurs are eyeing this area for business expansion. The corridor project includes an affirmative-action program and an artistic program, Arts in Transit.
Community meetings will begin in January, says Peter C. Calcaterra, assistant manager for planning and development of the MBTA. They will cover the finishing touches on transportation, development along the corridor and along the route of the abandoned elevated line (Washington Street), and art works at corridor stations. Public hearings will be held in May.
Background information for these sessions is based on an MBTA detailed replacement transit improvement study and a November 1984 status report conducted by Mr. Calcaterra's office.
Transportation plans include two basic actions. First, the elevated tracks will be torn down. Second, a crosstown transit service will be constructed, linking downtown to the corridor at the proposed Jackson Square and Roxbury Crossing stations - by bus, live rail, or trolley.
Proposed crosstown routes include Washington Street from Chinatown to Forest Hills and a crosstown corridor that would connect the Ruggles station (covering Roxbury and Northeastern University) with the MBTA Red Line at the Columbia (John F. Kennedy Libray/University of Massachusetts) station.
In the meantime, Urbanarts has set up a Southwest Corridor Artists Registry office at 716 Columbus Avenue. This office is inviting interested artists to submit their works and ideas for consideration in the MBTA arts programs. These include competition to provide a permanent art project and an educational program. An arts panel will make final selections for the nine corridor stations.
Under affirmative action the corridor has provided $55 million or 16 percent of its $355 million spent on the the project to minority contractors, says Walter E. Williams, executive director of the CAB.
''Dollarwise, this is good,'' says Mr. Williams. ''But our concern is that jobs and profits are not always part of the package.''
Corridor contracts have gone to 31 minority firms, he adds.
The CAB also monitors the hiring of blacks, women, and other minorities by major contractors. Jerry Cofield, the affirmative-action officer, checks out every report that a contractor, black or white, does not hire enough minoritiy workers. ''And we don't accept twofers (a minority woman being counted twice, as a minority and as a female),'' he says.
''Our goals are makeable. The job is doable,'' says Daniel L. Ocasio, senior project manager of the corridor. ''Our next task is land development.''
To build community support Mr. Ocasio - he works at a field office rather than from MBTA headquarters - has organized neighborhood groups at three levels, a committee of business people, residents, and employees within the corridor; neighborhood committees for each of three sections, South End, Roxbury, and Jamaica Plan, of the corridor; and station area committees, business and recreational.
These groups will be involved in the next step toward completion - land development around the corridor. Acosia says station area task forces have been organized to ensure grass-roots involvement with the corridor.
The corridor exceeds federal requirements for affirmative action, 10 percent minority and 1 percent women, says Ocasio.
At a 65 percent level of completion, Ocasio says of the Southwest Corridor, ''Right now we're doing quite well with a surplus in our budget and on schedule with our construction. And we're on schedule.''