Residents Express Views on New Rutherford Ave.

Many residents turned out to attend the Charlestown Neighborhood Council meeting.

The Transportation Committee of the Charlestown Neighborhood Council hosted a meeting with residents and officials from the Boston Transportation Department at the Knights of Columbus on Medford Street, to discuss plans for the redevelopment of the Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square area.

Rutherford Avenue is many things – a speedway for some, an over -commercialized roadway for others. To create a safer environment for Charlestown residents, three options have been proposed as solutions to the problem. But the real conundrum is choosing the solution. The first option, and seemingly the most popular, is the “surface option,” which would eliminate the underpasses on Rutherford Avenue.

Alternatively, the “tunnel option” would ensure the permanence of underpasses at Sullivan Square and Austin Street, while the “surface option” would only guarantee the Austin Street underpass, but would add more greenery in the form of recreational parks on Austin Street and in City Square.

Congressman Michael Capuano is an advocate of the “hybrid option.” With this choice, elements from the “surface option,” favored as the most aesthetically pleasing of the three, would be combined with some avenues the “tunnel option” explores. Regardless of which option is chosen, the main priority is to alleviate traffic in the discussed dense area.

“We want an option that will create an opportunity to take your children to the park and cross the street safer than you do today,” Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Thomas Timlin said to the large crowd of over 100 Charlestown residents.

“We’re going to come back here as many times as you want,” he added.

After Timlin’s introduction, Michael Paul from Tetra Tech monopolized most of the meeting with his slideshow presentation of the anticipated changes. “We’re going to focus on Austin Street…and look at some of the issues, as well as see some options to keep the underpass,” Paul voiced.

Some of the project goals were outlined and discussed in detail, but the highlighted issue was that of traffic control. Comprehensive graphs were illuminated against the wall as Paul pointed out that from 2008 to 2011, traffic in the morning has remained the same. “Volumes haven’t changed much,” he said.

There are currently six lanes in the underpass, three northbound and three southbound. “The high left-turn volume in the afternoon is a problem,” Paul said, switching slides.

Another issue noted was that the area is an extremely unfriendly pedestrian environment. A sketch of the alternative underpass was then projected. “We feel it will improve safety…But nothing’s carved in stone. It’s a rendering of what could be there,” Paul said, also noting that additional space could be gained by reducing the number of lanes from three each way to two.

Some of the same issues that surfaced four years ago have since been refined, culminating in this presentation.  “When concerns were raised four years ago, Austin Street came up 1,000 times,” Paul said. “If that’s the concern, then we, as government, need to come back and try to address it.” But some residents still remained unconvinced, voicing their hesitations within the parameters of the interactive forum.

“If there was ever an emergency in Charlestown, you’d be better off staying in your house,” said one female resident of how the seven-year construction plan would impact traffic in the area.

Nathan Blanchet spoke on behalf of the Charlestown Neighborhood Coalition. “We came together last fall, and in January started having neighborhood meetings. We studied the design and history of big changes in Charlestown, and we’re really thrilled at tonight’s turn out. The majority of people are in support the surface option because of safety,” Blanchett said. “Rebuilding a tunnel is unnecessary and undesirable,” he said of another proposed option.

The older residents sat complacently through the presentation, except for when some controversy arose over the action of removing the footbridge to Boston, to which one woman shouted, “It’s full of garbage. No one cleans it.” Another resident pushed back, claiming the bridge is a necessity.  “What we’re doing is giving one more option,” said Paul. “We’ve heard you. This is what transparent government does,” he added. The community will continue to be involved as stages in the project progress. The city cannot move forward with any plans until the community reaches a consensus, so, every meeting, and every opinion counts.

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