Surface Option Group Derails Grant Funding for Sullivan Square Design

February 15, 2018

City Councilors have agreed to hold up a vote to release $250,000 in grant funding to the Boston Transportation Department for use in advancing the hybrid tunnel option for Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square.

At a hearing before Councilor Michelle Wu’s Transportation Committee on Feb. 5, the anti-tunnel Rutherford Corridor Improvement Coalition (RCIC) testified at what was believed to be a formality of a vote. The RCIC, which has long opposed the City’s decision to include tunnels or underpasses in the design of the corridor, used the forum to voice their concerns about flaws they believe existed in the City’s analysis before deciding to use tunnels again.

And the Council was listening, and agreed.

RCIC favors a purely “Surface Option” proposal that has been in existence for several years, and once was the favored plan before developments like the Wynn casino came into being. The City rejected it as the preferred option last year during public meetings.

“We urge the Committee to delay acceptance of the funds until a number of key questions are answered and community concerns addressed,” indicated a letter from the RCIC that was read before the Council by Charlestown’s Ivey St. John. “We understand the BTD is indicating there is some level of urgency about the project now, but the truth is that there is only one opportunity to get this project right, and with an anticipated public an anticipated public investment of $160 million, we strongly believe that all avenues must be explored.”

City Councilor Lydia Edwards said the matter was agreed to remain in Wu’s Committee until all of the options are explored. They will likely set up a hearing before the Committee to hear from the BTD’s Jim Giloolly and also Northeastern University Professor Peter Furth – an advocate for the Surface Option design.

Wu did not immediately return a call by the Patriot Bridge asking for more information on the matter.

The date for that hearing hasn’t yet been set, but it’s already sent off alarms in the Town by those who favor the underpass hybrid plan – first proposed last year.

State Rep. Dan Ryan said the decision was made more than a year ago, and derailing the grant funding for design is not fair and shouldn’t be entertained by the Council.

“This is the first I’ve heard of the Boston City Council’s roadblock of a major Charlestown project,” he said. “I’ll have to get more information, but if this is still about surface versus underpass, to the best of my knowledge that ship has sailed.”

Ryan said the real fight is about getting the City to spend federal resources in Charlestown, which has finally happened due to the recent pursuit of the project and Congressman Michael Capuano’s request for funding.

“I get it; Charlestown is less than 2 percent of the City’s population,” he said. “I represent the least amount of Boston residents of any elected official in the city…Maybe someday, if I keep working hard enough, I’ll be able dictate where a quarter million dollars goes with just one phone call. But for now, I’ll just have to continue to be one noisy spoke in a great big dysfunctional wheel. We will get this project done the right way because enough games have already been played in the neighborhood. The overwhelming, vast majority of the residents that I represent just want their road fixed. After 50 years of neglect, it is time to move on.”