RCIC wants Consideration of Surface Option Ahead of Nov 15 Meeting

By Seth Daniel

Long-time proponents of the Surface Option for the Rutherford Avenue/Sullivan Square corridor – an option that eliminates underpasses and relies on surface streets and intersections – are asking that the City update their existing plan and give it serious consideration.

To date, they say the City has not given it a serious comparison to the new hybrid underpass option rolled out earlier this year.

That call comes ahead of a big meeting about the corridor by the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) on Nov. 15, and behind a meeting last summer where the new hybrid/tunnel design was compared against the old Surface Option plan from 2013.

“We feel it’s a valuable time for the project during this lull for the City to look at this project,” said Liz Levin of the Rutherford Corridor Improvement Coalition (RCIC). “We believe it is an ideal time for them to do the analysis we want them to do or they can decline to do it and we’re left with a plan that we believe is deficient…The City has not done it’s job. We’ve had to make Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to get information and we had to go out and get our own experts to do what the City should have done. It’s our belief they can spend some time now to do the analysis we have been advocating for from the beginning so they can demonstrate what the options are and we can push a plan all of the neighbors and the City can live with.”

The Surface Option plan has a long history that goes back decades, but in most recent chapters, the City did agree with residents on what in reality was a preliminary preferred designation for the Surface Option in 2013. That, however, was before the Wynn casino project, the Assembly Row expansion and the North Point build-up. City officials two years ago announced they were tabling the Surface Option to consider all of the other development. That’s when they re-started the current process and presented a new hybrid surface and tunnel design in May and June.

In those meetings, the new hybrid option was paired up with the old design for the Surface Option, which the RCIC believes was not a fair comparison. An update of that option, they said, relies on the City’s own goals of Complete Streets – prioritizing public transportation, access to T stations, bicycle travel and pedestrian access ahead of personal vehicles. Also, numerous stoplights in succession are believed to move traffic faster and more efficiently than a speedway-type road moving people through one stretch fast, only to be held up at a bottleneck elsewhere.

Ivey St. John said that exact thing is an impediment to the hybrid plan at Austin Street and City Square.

The three lanes of car traffic empty into two lanes on what will be a new bridge. That, she said, is a recipe for disaster. Also at Austin Street and Essex Street, the RCIC is quite disappointed in the hybrid plan’s loss of green space, an important buffer for residents from the hustle of Rutherford Avenue.

“The three lanes going down to two lanes on the bridge is a substantial disconnect,” she said. “Also the up-and-down ramps at Austin and Essex create so little open space that residents there will get no relief.”

Levin said this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and for a small delay for cars, so much other modes of transportation are sacrificed. “We won’t get this chance again in another 100 years so we need to get it right,” said Levin. “The Surface Option morning traffic estimates are 3.2 minutes longer in 2040 with conservative numbers. For those 3.2 minutes, we’re giving up all the green space, developable land and the other amenities. The state and City are not looking at how to off-load vehicles and get to people.”

With so much positive work on ideologies that do not prioritize cars in neighboring cities and towns, RCIC members said they are afraid Boston’s plans are outdated in ideology and could threaten good work going on regionally.

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