There is no disagreement about the need for improvement to the area of Charlestown along New Rutherford Avenue. The 1950’s style highway includes an underpass – part of which has been closed for over a year, and a large traffic circle in Sullivan Square, that has been deemed the cause of many accidents.
The first proposals to make changes were written in 1999 at an estimated cost of $80 million but no action was taken. It wasn’t until 2008 that the project was rehashed and supported by an overwhelming effort on the part of the community to get something done.
The stretch of city highway that includes eight to 10 lanes in some areas is zoned mainly for industrial and commercial use. Meetings attended by local and state officials held over a two-year period were able to narrow the options down to two.
The first known as a “surface option”, plans to fill in the New Rutherford Avenue underpass creating more open space and a multi-use path connecting the areas between City Square and the JJ Ryan Playground. In addition, it would allow for creation of more than 200 on-street parking spaces.
The second proposed plan backed by the “tunnel supporters”, would keep the underpass in place with some improvements and take similar action to beautify the surrounding area. Some believe the underpass is the only thing keeping the heavy traffic flow out of the Charlestown neighborhood streets.
Hearing Congressman Mike Capuano address the Charlestown community about his concerns for the project in May, led Charlestown resident, Anthony McGuinness to take action in support of the surface option.
“He raised his concerns about the project, he didn’t think it would work,” McGuinness said. “That’s when we decided to start the surface option supporters,”
In hopes to inform the public and prevent further stalling of the project, McGuinness set up a website for a group called “Surface Option Supporters-The Community Approved Option”. A petition signed by more than 400 local residents illustrates support for the group and its cause.
Press Secretary for Capuano’s office, Alison Mills, confirmed that “Removal of the underpass may cause a diversion of traffic into Charlestown neighborhoods.” and that the Congressman’s goal is to keep the heavy traffic flow where it belongs.
The surface option has also been endorsed by the Charlestown Neighborhood Council and the Department of Transportation, though some in the city still disagree with this decision.
“The opposition is driven by this fear that there is going to be traffic,” McGuinness said. “What we are relying on is traffic engineers and the planners that have done this plan, counted cars and done a study. They say the surface option will handle the traffic,” he said.
In the past few weeks, McGuinness noticed fliers circulating in the area warning of traffic concerns that have sparked some public concern.
“They put the tunnels there for a reason and the reason was to mitigate traffic flow,” said Charleston resident, Donna O’Brien. “I do believe the impact that project will have on the neighbors on the Washington Street side, has not been fully vetted. I am not in favor of closing the tunnels,” she said.
The majority of concern lies mainly in the discussion about whether or not to fill in the Rutherford Avenue underpass. The project would also making changes to an area of Sullivan Square and to the on ramps to I93.
“Both configurations based on the proposed design by the Boston Transportation Department involve creating a grid of streets in Sullivan Square rather than a large traffic circle,” said Mark Rosenshein, Chairman of the Development Committee for the Neighborhood Council.
Once the improvements have begun, it may open the door for larger scale re-development projects in the area Rosenshein said. It is hoped that the MBTA would start to look at options for the property adjacent to the traffic circle, owned by the MBTA at the Sullivan Square train station.
As it stands now, the Boston Transportation Department is waiting on a portion of the $17 million in federal funding reserved for the project to move from the concept stages to the final design. The department has also voiced their support of the surface option promising that no traffic would be re-routed through neighborhood streets and wants to move quickly once the funding is received.
“We have asked the State Department of Transportation to let us access some federal funding that has been set aside for this project,” said Vineet Gupta, Director of Planning at the Boston Transportation Department. “Somewhere in the range of $2 to $3 million,” he said.
Once the funds are in place a design team can be compiled and with at least 25 percent of the design work complete, more funding will become available to move forward with the project.