Through decades of promises, plans and projects, the revitalization of Dudley Square has been an elusive dream.
Now, signs suggest revival is around the corner. On March 3, ground will be broken for a brand new municipal building on the Ferdinand site, set to bring some 500 workers and 10,000 square feet of retail businesses by fall 2014.
Numerous other land parcels in the area are in various stages of development for offices, residences, stores and restaurants. Tropical Foods, a longstanding independent grocery store, is planning to expand to larger quarters and hire more employees. The MBTA is about to improve Dudley Station. And the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) is devising improvements for some of Dudley Square’s traffic-choked streets and pedestrian-unfriendly crossings.
The end results may be desirable, but the path will not be pretty.
The good news is that all the work will be done at once, instead of in sequential disruptions over many years.
But the bad news is that all the projects will be in progress at once — each bringing noise, dust and disruptions for drivers, transit riders and pedestrians.
In a Feb. 23 meeting of the Dudley Vision Advisory Task Force, representatives from several city agencies explained their upcoming projects and their plans to coordinate with each other.
Here is a rough sketch of the schedule:
The Dudley Station work begins this summer and runs into late 2014. On about the same schedule, Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) will perform major sewer separation and water main replacement work, in some cases digging 20 feet under the street to reach pipes. Construction on the Ferdinand site will start slowly this spring with abatement and facade stabilization, ramp up to above-ground construction throughout 2013, and wind down from late 2013 to late 2014 with interior finishing and landscaping. Street improvements to Melnea Cass Boulevard and Dudley Square are projected for 2013-2014.
At the meeting, BWSC Senior Planning Engineer Thomas Daly explained the sewer work. Boston, like many older cities, has a “combined sewer overflow” system. This means that in heavy rains both storm water and sewage can empty into waterways such as Fort Point Channel and the Boston Harbor.
The sewer separation work, already done in some parts of Boston, will ensure that sewage ends up at Deer Island treatment plant even in storms. In addition, the Dudley Square dig will include replacement or rehabilitation of older water mains and sewers.
BWSC Director of Construction Irene McSweeney discussed possible impacts during the work: noise, dust, rodent activity and trash pickup changes, bus route and traffic disruptions. For each one, she said, BWSC monitors and mitigates, as well as coordinates with other agencies. They have hired an outside consultant, Regina Villa Associates, to handle communication such as advance notice to residents and businesses of water main shutdowns.
Businesses usually want road work to be done at night, while residents prefer daytime, McSweeney said, so BWSC tries to be flexible on a street-by-street basis to accommodate what people want. She plans to address the task force again after a contractor has been selected and the schedule for which streets will be affected when is set.
Mahendra Patel, MBTA senior project manager, listed the planned Dudley Station improvements, aimed at improving passenger comfort and meeting Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. They include addition of heated bus shelters, electronic message signs and bus arrival countdown signs, and removal of unused booths, as well as replacement of Plexiglas windscreen panels and some busway pavement.
Task force members urged the MBTA to distribute proper information whenever bus movements are temporarily changed.
“The last time [station work was done], they put buses outside the station,” said task force member Joyce Stanley. She expressed concern about elderly bus riders. “We want to make sure they know where to go to get the bus.”
Patel said signs and additional T agents will direct passengers to new bus locations, but task force members pressed, suggesting advance notification in the form of schedules and flyers.
“Some of these buses only come once an hour, and you don’t want to miss it,” said Stanley. “Most of the people planning this don’t take the bus.”
Patrick Hoey of the BTD explained that Melnea Cass Boulevard improvements are in the design phase and expected start in late 2013. And in Dudley Square, design work will start soon on improvements to curb lines, sidewalks, signal timing, pedestrian crosswalks and street lighting, with construction to occur in 2014. For more information on the street projects, including public meeting announcements, see bostoncompletestreets.org and cityofboston.gov/transportation/melnea/.
Task force members also pressed the BWSC and MBTA presenters to provide numbers and policy details on their commitment to minority hiring.
The presentations seemed to allay concerns that the various agencies were not communicating and coordinating with each other. While the simultaneous construction and infrastructure projects will be burdensome, continued vigilance by the Dudley Vision Advisory Task Force and the community could help ensure each agency sticks to its promises of advance notification, interagency coordination, monitoring, mitigation and minority hiring.