Almost 200 residents attended an informational session at the Knights of Columbus Hall last Thursday night by city officials from the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) concerning some of the design changes that could affect the Sullivan Square-Rutherford Avenue Corridor.
James Gillooly, BTD Deputy Commissioner told the crowd that the objective is to try to “replace the regional highway feel with a neighborhood-oriented character, while trying to utilize the $100m in state and federal highway funds that are available until 2020.” Gillooly said that the re-designed street would be more pedestrian friendly with more green space, pedestrian crossings and bike lanes. Pointing out that there is more new development occurring from projects at Assembly Square Mall, the old Hood site, added housing developments especially the addition of almost 2,000 units in the Charlestown housing projects and the Wynn Casino, there is a greater need to make the traffic flow better.
While the idea of redoing Rutherford Avenue, has been discussed for more than 20 years, this time it seems that city officials are more committed to downsize the highway from six lanes to four or even three lanes. The project would run almost 7,000 feet from Sullivan Square to the North Washington Street. Bridge that will be undergoing construction in the spring fo 2017. Gillooly noted that the first part of the corridor to see repairs would probably be around the Austin St. area since the city is working with neighboring communities like Everett and Somerville as well as the Lower Mystic Regional Working Group in finding a solution to the Austin Street Sullivan Square area.
Using data gathered from surveys done in both 2008 and 2015, Erik Maki, Project Manager from Tetra Tech, showed how traffic has increased at different points along the corridor. He pointed out that there are far more cars heading south-bound into Boston than heading out of Boston. He even suggested that there are only enough cars heading out of Boston to justify a single lane.
Finally, the idea of eliminating the underpass at Austin Street was discussed, as this would give much more room for green space and bike lanes on the Bunker Hill College side of Rutherford Avenue.
At this point, the floor was open up to questions from the audience.
Bill Galvin pointed out that if the underpass is eliminated and unless the signal timing is discussed, there could be a major traffic jam on Austin Street. going back almost to Main Street as the signals would most likely favor traffic on Rutherford Avenue.
Liz Levin said that if the street were more pedestrian friendly then people could use the MBTA trains more often. According to data that was presented, ridership on the Orange Line is up by 4 percent at Sullivan Square and almost 9 percent at Community College Station. In addition the train time could drop from eight minutes to five minutes with Wynn subsidizing the Orange line with additional trains.
Moe Gillen pointed out that unless Medford Street is addressed than this redesign of Rutherford Ave. does not help with congestion in the neighborhood.
Another idea of adding parking alongside the northbound lane was something that the residents favored in a proposal. Some in the audience said that parking would give the street a neighborhood feel.
One resident commented that a closer on-ramp to I-93 would also help decrease traffic on the corridor.
The last unknown was how the traffic pattern might change once two-way tolling on the Tobin Bridge starts later this summer. BTD officials said they were going to monitor this new variable and see if the traffic volume on the northbound side of Rutherford Ave. would increase.
The general consensus was that the data that is being used now by the BTD is very good and should result in positive solutions for Charlestown.
Before the meeting was adjourned, there was discussion of another input meeting in October. All information on the meeting can be found at the City of Boston Transportation Department Website. http://www.cityofboston.gov/transportation. Gillooly urged residents to contact him about their suggestions on the redesign of the corridor.