By Seth Daniel
Members of the Lower Mystic Regional Working Group met in Charlestown on Thursday, Feb. 2, to gather input from local organizations and businesses on plans that have been formulated with the many members of the group over the past year.
The group has ideas from water transportation to activating new I-93 ramps to figuring out how to get people out of cars and out of the regional traffic configuration around the Sullivan Square area – and remarkably enough, everyone is sitting at the table and working cooperatively.
Carri Hulet coordinated the meeting on Thursday, and told members of the community gathered at the Knights of Columbus Hall that the regional approach has been working well – and that was worth note.
Those on the Work Group include the City of Boston, the City of Everett, the City of Somerville, the state Department of Transportation (DOT), Massachusetts Area Planning Council (MAPC), the Attorney General’s Office, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, MassPort, Congressman Michael Capuano and Wynn Boston Harbor.
The idea is to look into the future – thinking about all the development – and plan for a regional traffic, pedestrian, public transportation and bicycle transportation model that works into 2040.
“One thing that’s interesting and unique about this project is it’s regional,” said Hulet. “It’s just very unique to get the Cities and entities across jurisdictions to come together. I think that’s worth celebrating that this is happening and it’s happening well and really smoothly.”
The Working Group was born out of the Wynn Boston Harbor environmental review process (MEPA). In the final letter of authorization, the MEPA order was for State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack to convene a regional working group to analyze and come up with long-term solutions to the entire area of Charlestown, Everett and Somerville – and most importantly – to include the massive amounts of new development now started and expected to come in the next several years.
The work started in December 2015, and land uses began to be looked at in April 2016, with representatives from MAPC sitting down with the various municipalities and key businesses to find out what development could be expected in years to come. That was added to the existing Land Use Study, which is 25 years old.
The Working Group has been formulating many ideas in that time, but starting trying to get community input last November. A large public hearing in downtown Boston took place in November, and another of those is expected in May 2017.
In between that, though, smaller group input has been sought, which was the purpose of several groups of meetings that were held in Charlestown, Everett and Somerville over the past two weeks.
“The theory and rationale for the discussion groups is we need to get some small groups together to get further input between the two bi public meetings,” said Hulet.
The Working Group has come up with seven alternatives and ideas for policy and infrastructure that they are sharing.
They are analyzing those alternatives and the reactions to them through May.
“We think the analysis will go a little bit longer than May,” said Hulet. “Part of that has to do with waiting to see what the City of Boston will decide about Rutherford Avenue. I think a recommendation could come in the fall, probably late fall, but definitely by the end of the year.”
One piece of that plan is called Transportation Demand Management (TDM), and that includes things like steering workers to public transportation by offering free T passes, or by offering occasional incentives to work from home instead of coming into the office.
The example is Kendall Square in Cambridge, they said, where there has been a tremendous amount of development, but also they have reduced the amounts of traffic at the same time.
Some of the practical changes contemplated now include installing a new I-93 northbound on ramp at City Square, an extended I-93 northbound off-ramp at Exit 28 to bypass Sullivan Square and converting the I-93 HOV lane into a general purpose limited access express lane.
For public transportation, they are looking at the possibility of putting a commuter rail stop in Sullivan Square, extending the Silver Line Gateway project from Chelsea through Everett, Sullivan Square, Somerville, Medford and Cambridge to connect with the Red Line.
Finally, there is a big emphasis on putting in separated bicycle and pedestrian paths through the study area and connecting those to existing off-road bike paths – like the Northern Strand Trail in Everett. There is also the discussion of a River’s Edge Orange Line Station on the Malden River just beyond Wellington Station.
Several Charlestown residents, especially those from the Navy Yard, pushed for more thought to coordinating and stressing the use of water transport.
“We have no coordinated schedule for water ferries,” said Lois Siegelman of the Friends of the Navy Yard. “If I want to go to the Harbor Islands by ferry, it takes all day to get there. It’s just not coordinated. If you go to Bermuda or Zurich or other places, they have it all coordinated. We have lots of dock space, but there is a lack of routes and a lack of coordination. If I wanted to use the ferry to go to dinner in Boston or the theatre, I can’t do it.”
Richard McCarthy of the Charlestown Neighborhood Council (CNC) said the study needed to address circulation within the Town – and that adding any bus routes to Charlestown would likely be a useless exercise.
“A bus leaving Charlestown at rush hour is going to be useless,” he said. “A big push we need to add is getting around just in Charlestown. We have another 5,000 or 10,000 people coming in the next few years. You have to talk about internal circulation here too, which is a problem now and will be a bigger problem later.”
Bill Lamb of the Charlestown Preservation Society said he wanted the Group to be careful about adding overhead highway ramps. He said he would prefer things go under Sullivan Square rather than over.
“More ramps overhead will kind of kill livability there,” he said.
Hulet said they are planning on scheduling an additional small group meeting in Charlestown during an evening hour in the coming months, and they would do the same in Everett.