BTD to Return on Feb 28 to Talk about Rutherford, Sullivan Plans

By Seth Daniel

As opposite sides have dug in on the either/or underpass versus surface option debate on Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square, the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) seems to be driving a vehicle of compromise to the Town.

The newest plans for the Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square corridor won’t look anything like what is there today, but BTD officials hinted at a meeting last week that there is likely to be a compromise of existing plans – where a surface deck exists and a tunnel/underpass system also exists.

Jim Gillooly of the BTD said at a meeting of the Lower Mystic Regional Working Group on Thursday, Feb. 2, that the City would return to Charlestown for a meeting on Feb. 28, and plans circulated there would likely show a compromise of positions.

For the longest time, the contentious discussion about the plans for the corridor have pitted those who want an underpass against those who don’t want an underpass – and it has even attracted the attention of Congressman Michael Capuano, who has indicated his preference of an underpass. However, now it appears that after several planning meetings in the neighborhood since last June, the BTD might have worked up a compromise plan.

Gillooly said the Feb. 28 meeting would give a peek at a potential plan that would include smaller tunnels that go under Austin Street and Sullivan Square. Above those tunnels would be surface decks with the new street grids, similar to what had been proposed in the surface option to begin to connect mainland Charlestown with the “other side” by the Hood Plant and Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC).

“It’s not likely going to be a one or the other situation with the underpass and surface option, but something that builds off of one another – a hybrid,” he said. “Just because a plan keeps the underpasses doesn’t mean it would be what you see out there today. It would still have a street grid at Sullivan Square. It’s whether it works better with an underpass to get the people who don’t want to come to Charlestown through the area…Despite all the good intentions of the surface plan, there are some deficiencies.”

Gillooly said the current underpass system, at Austin Street especially, is way overbuilt.

“There is a six-lane underpass at Austin,” he said. “That’s way overcapacity for what we need. It was over capacity when it was built. It will be overcapacity in the future. Any underpass we contemplate wouldn’t be that large…We would want to work it to accommodate everything now and into the future if we build an underpass. We don’t want to build it for today, but we would want to build it for the needs of a little bit into the future.”

Gillooly and the BTD began the new process in June of last year when it became apparent the surface plan – which was crafted long before the Wynn Boston Harbor casino and Assembly Row projects had been fully unveiled – couldn’t work as planned. He said a process had to begin again where the community and the City came back together to talk about the corridor and include all of the new developments – including the potential One Charlestown project – in the discussion.

One of the potential problems, he said, with eliminating the underpass is that it will create the same situation that begat the underpass in the first place. Years ago, the underpass came to be because commuters leaving downtown Boston were clogging up Main Street and Medford Street in the Town.

Gillooly said they fear such a situation could repeat itself if the surface streets offer commuters the only option of getting out of Boston.

“There are a lot more streets on the surface plan and an awful lot of traffic lights,” he said. “If everyone under is going above and stopping at those lights, you’re adding a layer of traffic that has to be navigating the new multiple streets and multiple traffic signals…We would like to be able to separate the neighborhood people from those passing through.”

Meanwhile, he said they have contemplated how to make the smaller tunnels work in concert with the surface roads. He said they have analyzed, and like, the way that Purchase Street interacts with the Greenway surface road as it emerges from the I-93 O’Neill Tunnel.

“On Purchase Street, there is a light and the surface road get to go and then the ramp gets to go,” he said. “It’s not like Logan Airport where everything is going everywhere.”

In any case, he said they are excited about the initial plans that have come from multiple community meetings over the past year, and he said it would certainly give birth to something totally new that BTD believes will work for everyone.

“The experience would be like nothing that is out there today,” he said.


17 comments for “BTD to Return on Feb 28 to Talk about Rutherford, Sullivan Plans

  1. Charlie
    February 13, 2017 at 12:30 am

    This is totally backwards thinking by the City of Boston. To say that Assembly Row had not been fully unveiled yet is disingenuous. The full buildout plans for Assembly Row have been public for years. The one big thing that changed there was that an IKEA was replaced by the Partners Healthcare offices. Yes, Wynn Casino was something that no one predicted, but that will bring traffic at off-peak times, not during the peak morning and afternoon rush hours.

    If the City were truly planning for the future, they would be designing for traffic volumes to go down, not up. In Boston and throughout the region, people have been driving less and walking, bicycling, and taking transit more. Underpasses are expensive to build and maintain and create spaces that are difficult to build on top of, especially where they rise up to the surface. Yes, the Greenway has ramps coming to the surface from underground, from an Interstate Highway! Rutherford Ave is supposed to be a city street, not a highway. So why are we designing it like one?!

    The community came to a consensus around the surface option back in 2010, and again in 2012 when local politicians forced the City to revisit the decision. How many times is the City going to reintroduce the question? How many times do people have to say “we want the surface option” before they will accept that as an answer?

    • Matt Powers
      February 13, 2017 at 9:40 pm

      Completely agree. We all need to be vocal. The city of Boston is missing the opportunity to shape traffic and encourage shared vehicles (e.g., Uber) and public transportation. This sounds like a transportation department fighting the last war (and never willing to accept the community’s preference for the surface option).

      Stop solving for congestion on Rutherford. Work with the Lower Mystic to reduce volumes and steer commuters onto the Tobin and 93 (or public transport!)

      • Dan
        February 14, 2017 at 2:08 pm

        The surface design would have hurt the Charlestown community if you look at the most up to date traffic numbers. Sadly, the city back then failed to do its homework and do the needed analysis with proper traffic studies. Once it was properly done under the Walsh administration, it was clear the numbers were telling us a very different story.

        Here we will get less noise and standing traffic. And we will be able to get across the traffic moat of Rutherford Ave more freely by foot, bike or car. While I won’t say its ideal, it’s a lot closer! We’ll need to wait to see all of the details.

        Overtime the Lower Mystic study group will help us lessen future traffic! Sadly thats going to take years beyond what happens now with the Rutherford & Sullivan rebuild. The design being pushed here fits hand to glove with what Everett is moving toward. As it stands now a lane will be used for dedicated buses along Rt99 to off load the roadway. So hang in there!

    • Dan
      February 14, 2017 at 2:35 pm

      Rutherford ave is a major artery: While it is a city street, it is also a merge space for three bridges! It is by far one of the most trafficked roads of Boston’s neighborhoods given its size. Choking the city is not a good idea, yes we do need to lessen the traffic but that is a very big nut to crack and beyond what we can address here. We need to make our community livable minimizing the outside forces of the commuters & casino traffic as best as we can. And align our actions in a positive way moving forward. This design moves us in the right direction not only for now but even for later when more buses use the corridor.

      The design from what I understand will not have any midpoint entry or exits in the underpass part, other than at Auston St/City Sq and Sullivan Sq. entry/exit points. So don’t worry about comparing the ramps of the greenway here as it does not apply.

      You also need to rethink costs of the underpass as its already there. Granted, to level it off at the lower elevation just in front of the BHCC will require some work but the cost is quite small in the big picture here. As we aren’t decking the entry pathway that too cuts the costs. Later we can fill in the decks. As for building buildings on top of the right of way thats not realistic either. Between the narrowness of the right of way we still need open spaces which this would be ideal here. Think of it more like Commonwealth Ave.

      • Lisa
        February 14, 2017 at 8:50 pm

        I might get excited about a tunnel that took people from Austin St to Sullivan square with no exits up as long as it was quiet. If they let people back up in Sullivan so they could go north toward assembly that would encourage many people below and keep the upper st for Ctown.

        We need to discourage commuters from coming up above.

        • Dan
          February 14, 2017 at 10:09 pm

          The lower level road surface will focus the sound more upwards than outwards. A full roof would contain more of the sound as well as allow better management of the exhaust pollution cleaning it and pushing it way.

          With so many traffic lights on the parallel surface pathway should discourage the commuters & casino traffic from leaving the more direct pathway through the tunnel.

          • Lisa
            February 15, 2017 at 2:40 pm

            Do you work for the city?

          • Dan
            February 15, 2017 at 3:19 pm

            No, I don’t work for the city or state. I live here in C-Town for over 35 years. I started getting involved with the CANA project which started the ball rolling before the Big Mess (Big Dig). Back then we had envisioned a softer Rutherford Ave but the Big Dig sucked away the funding.

            I didn’t like either of the two designs we got pushed into a six years ago as neither really worked. I knew there was a possibility to get something better

            From the tidbits that I’ve heard and whats written here it sounds like we are going in the right direction with a hybrid design. Just like you I’ll be learn the details at the meeting.

  2. Dan
    February 14, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    You miss the point!

    We have different traffic patterns here. The commuters which we can’t dissuade on taking public transit as it just isn’t there for them to take. Besides, Uber or any other shared ride solution only goes part way here. If I could wave a magic wand to get people not to drive into town I would, but it’s not going to happen.

    We need to be realist here, we all want wheels and we want to go when we want to. Either the commuters going into Boston Proper or us living in C-Town

    This is a good design compromise between the two options we started off with. The surface design failed to deal with the gridlock we would face as well as the intrusion of commuter traffic though our local streets and the failure of the underpass design which was just incomplete in handling the traffic. Taking the strengths of each is the right direction! While I would have liked to seen a fully enclosed tunnel that was just to big a stretch to do at one time.

    Here we are getting an island approach using the surface design were its needed at Sullivan Sq and City Sq/Auston St.

    It gives the community access and yet off loads the rush traffic on a dedicated roadway. In the future if the through traffic pathway is at the correct level we can revisit decking over the rest of the path opening things up like the North End.

    • Tony
      February 14, 2017 at 4:18 pm

      Whatever they do should shrink the road dramatically. By us at Mishawum the road is eight lanes wide. IT should be half that! But they’ll probably screw us and the park will only be for those by downtown!

      • Dan
        February 14, 2017 at 6:19 pm

        Thats part of the plan! From what I understand its looking like a two lane each way in the underpass section and a two on the surface level running in parallel with a third for turn at some interactions. There will also be some parking. Remember the through traffic won’t be on the surface just the local slower traffic.

        • Tony
          February 14, 2017 at 9:38 pm

          So they’d take it from 8 to 7 (4 in the tunnel, 2 above and some left turns)? doesn’t feel like a significant chagne. There should be plenty of room for a big park and open space along these roads, buffering the town. It feel like they dropped that goal way down the list.

          • Dan
            February 15, 2017 at 2:40 pm

            Its hard to see, but it is an improvement. The problem today is the merging that takes place along Rutherford makes some widths very large and other sections appear to be the right size. By dedicating two lanes each way in the underpass area we reduce the need for such a wide space and have less traffic crossing over so many more lanes.

            Buffering can be done in different ways… Creating a wall or using dense plants or better yet reduce the number of vehicles by using a tunnel and/or underpass design.

            The cost factor of doing a full true tunnel here I think was the issue. It’s not to say it still can’t be done, we will need to be vocal to make sure the design does not preclude upgrading it in the future.

  3. David
    February 21, 2017 at 11:17 am

    What happened to the park? I thought Charlestown was going to get some green space. This seems like a great deal for Everett and Somerville. Build giant developments and stick it to Charlestown to handle your traffic. Thanks Walsh.

    • Dan
      February 22, 2017 at 7:11 am

      There was never going to be a true park in either of the previous designs offered. All there was going to be was a swath of green space along Rutherford Ave. offering a bit of buffering along the back of some of the homes.

      This newer design still won’t offer any park as suggested in the leaked details here. We’ll need to wait and see the details of the new design.

      if, the underpass is at an even grade level along the pathway it could offer more green space similar to what Comm Ave has, if a full roof deck where built.

      We may need to focus on making sure the design done today does not preclude the deck surface added later to get a true ‘Park’ space and we might even be able to add some more buffering along the backs of the homes along the pathway by bending the road away over the deck space.

      • David
        February 22, 2017 at 3:42 pm

        It was a linear park. With trees and a bike path well separated from the roadway. We aren’t looking for Boston Common. There should be a real buffer so you don’t feel like you are walking or riding along a highway.

        • Dan
          February 22, 2017 at 6:23 pm

          It’s a given to have a bikeway which is isolated from the traffic.

          The designs outlined before where very loose on the width and the placement of the bikeway. Sadly, the space from City Square to BHCC is tight no matter what design you look at. Its this area that needs more buffering for the houses and the bike lanes will be close to the road as you also need to get across the N. Washington bridge. From Dunstable St to Sullivan Square there is more space so it can be wider. We’ll need to wait to see what they come out with.

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