Looking at Casino Impacts on Charlestown

Rutherford Avenue is a road to be usually avoided at certain times of the day.  The recent potholes are not the reason as much as the traffic gridlock that one encounters.  For residents this gridlock usually means the side streets, such as Main Street, Chelsea Street,  Bunker Hill Street, Austin Street, Green Street or Medford Street, which themselves then become gridlocked as motorists look for a faster way to get either out of Boston or into Boston.

City and state officials are aware about the traffic problems on Rutherford Avenue and especially around Sullivan Square, inasmuch as they have been talking about solutions since 1999.  At that time, there was an estimate of renovations to ease traffic congestion pegged at more than $80 million.  With that estimate, the plans to improve Rutherford Avenue have stalled.

Residents are now questioning what would happen if an extra 1,000 cars per hour would be added to this already congested roadway because of the potential location of a Wynn Casino Resort right over the Alford Street Bridge in Everett  “We have a concern for the quality of life,” Tom Cunha, Chair of the Charlestown Neighborhood Council said recently. Cunha readily describes how ambulances and fire trucks with horns blaring are caught in this gridlock and even if they make it off Rutherford Avenue, the side streets in Charlestown are impassable. “There have been times when I or my neighbors on Bunker Hill Street run down the street to have cars, that are three of four ahead of the ambulance, move to the side to have these emergency vehicles pass,” he added.

However, Wynn officials are now making the case that the casino could be the solution for this gridlocked roadway.  Under the state law that opened the casino wars, there is a provision that casino developers make roadway and infrastructure improvements that make traffic no worse than what presently exists in these neighborhoods.

“We are committed to giving the state almost $40 million to do repairs and improvements to Sullivan Square and surrounding areas,that will make traffic flow better,” Wynn representatives said in a recent interview.  They pointed out that the state timetable has earmarked 2023 as the year that Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square will be fixed.  Wynn officials point out that they have committed to fix the problems earlier.

“We are committed to fund a study to find whatever the right decision will be,” they added.  Showing exhibits, Wynn officials point out the present conditions where many of the intersections along the roadway have poor grades.  They  point out that with their repairs, they would fund  lane modifications, signals, and new traffic signs, that traffic flow would improve in these troubled intersections.

Wynn officials also note that the 1,000-car increase per hour in traffic is not in one direction but almost half the cars are traveling the other direction.  They also point out the 1,000 cars per hour figure is for peak resort hours, which are not the same as commuter peak hours.

Traffic is but one concern for Charlestown community leaders like Cunha.  He pointed out that the Little League field is across the street from the proposed site of the casino.  The casino site is classified as a brownfield with three hot spots.  Two sites have a concentration of high arsenic and lead and the third site has a low pH in groundwater.  Wynn officials pointed out that they are committed to cleaning up the site to a point where the area can then be opened for public use.  They added that this area will be a vibrant and healthy site open to the public.   They pointed out that they will also be adding shellfish, such as oysters, to the water to help clean the surrounding waters.

The process of the cleanup raises red flags for Cunha.  “As they remove the dirt, will it become airborne and end up on our Little League field and flow into our neighborhoods?” he asked.

Wynn representatives say that they will go above and beyond state guidelines in removing this contaminated dirt.  They point out in their report, “that the transport of the contaminated soil is an extremely regulated and controlled process. Highly contaminated soil will be placed in fully enclosed and sealed box-like containers that are placed on trucks.  Less contaminated soil will be tightly covered with impermeable covers that are tightly attached around the truck.  There is virtually no chance of dust or dirt spreading from the truck during transport.” The cleanup will take five to seven months at a cost estimated to be $20 to $30 million dollars.  Wynn officials also point to the successful remediation projects that have occurred in Woburn and in Everett.  They also point out that today these contaminants on this site are leaching daily into the Mystic River and making the situation worse over time.

Mayor Martin Walsh’s office issued the following statement about the Wynn Resort Draft Environmental Impact Report filing, “The City continues to properly analyze, study and mitigate their proposed development’s hefty transportation impact on the City of Boston, specifically the Charlestown neighborhood.  Mayor Walsh will continue to advocate for the best interests of the City of Boston.”

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