By Luke O’Neill
Much like rush-hour traffic around Sullivan Square, the proposed reconstruction of the rotary and Rutherford Avenue appears snarled.
After a couple years, several public meetings and a community consensus to remove the Rutherford Avenue underpasses and make a surface road, U.S. Rep. Michael E. Capuano recently expressed his concerns about the design plans.
In particular, Capuano maintains, through staffers, that removing the Rutherford Avenue underpasses would cause traffic congestion on surrounding streets. Capuano has met with the Boston Transportation Department and Mayor Menino to discuss the project, according to Capuano’s spokeswoman Alison M. Mills.
“The mayor understands Congressman Capuano’s concerns and has directed the BTD to work with our office to address them,” Mills wrote in an e-mail.
Now, the Charlestown Neighborhood Council (CNC) wants its meeting with the congressman to discuss the project, said council chairman Tom Cunha.
“We’re dying to sit down with the congressman,” he said.
According to Mills, Capuano’s staff have attended numerous community meetings regarding the Rutherford Avenue project, including meetings with the neighborhood council. And despite the longtime public discourse on the project, Mills downplayed the timing of Capuano’s public concerns about removing the underpasses, saying the congressman has been involved with the Rutherford Avenue project for about a decade.
“Once the city planners decided to remove the underpasses, Congressman Capuano formalized his concerns that removing the underpasses – especially the one at Austin Street – would force many commuters to seek alternative routes including on Main and Bunker Hill streets,” Mills wrote.
Currently the underpass beneath Austin Street is open to both northbound and southbound traffic while the Sullivan Square underpass is just open to southbound vehicles.
Removing Rutherford Avenue’s two underpasses would cause an “inevitable diversion of traffic into Charlestown neighborhoods,” wrote Mills.
She added that Capuano’s concern is that removing the underpasses “would lead to even longer backups into and out of Charlestown, more cars cutting through residential side streets . . . and greater rush-hour traffic on Charlestown neighborhood streets.”
Not so, say others involved in the project. Project planners have said at the community meetings that the current plans – to make Rutherford Avenue solely a surface road – could ease traffic flow by reconfiguring intersections.
After myriad public meetings, Cunha agrees with the consensus of a surface road design. The goal of the project, he said, is to turn Rutherford Avenue from a highway to a boulevard.
For its part, the BTD issued a statement from Commissioner Thomas J. Tinlin that highlighted the project’s thoroughness.
“The Boston Transportation Department is happy with the work that has been accomplished to date on this project,” read the statement.
Tinlin said the project included “an 18-month-long comprehensive community process to interact with all effected parties.” He highlighted the project’s eight “well-attended” public meetings and another 20 presentations made to different neighborhood groups.
“The resulting design will transform Rutherford Avenue into a neighborhood friendly urban boulevard accommodating vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians with adequate traffic capacity as well as green space,” said Tinlin. “The new design reinforces Rutherford Avenue’s role as a local street and pushes regional traffic on the highway where it belongs.”
In the statement, Tinlin concluded, “I understand Congressman Capuano’s concerns and I look forward to further discussions with him on this project.”
According to Mills, Capuano has earmarked $17 million in federal highway funds aimed “to fix the myriad of issues with this highly traveled corridor.”
And highly traveled it is. A casual observation of Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue during rush hour shows that on a recent Wednesday evening, around 5:30, cars, trucks and buses raced around the rotary, jockeying for position, looking more like the Indy 500 than a city street.
Pedestrians were honked at as they traversed crosswalks. Some cars stopped for pedestrians, others did not.
A van cut off a taxi, prompting the cabbie to honk his horn and raise his arms in frustration. Vehicles spilled out of every road into the rotary. Vehicles were routinely backed up at least 15 deep on roads entering the rotary. Traffic was especially backed up going onto the Alford Street bridge.
Back at the rotary, where the real rubber meets the road, most vehicles first inched out from Rutherford Avenue then darted into the fray.
One biker crept cautiously through a crosswalk, his left foot on a pedal and his right foot skipping over the pavement. A few cars scooted in front of him. After safely making it onto the sidewalk, he declared to a bystander, “They’d rather kill ya’ than let you go.”