Despite complaints from Boston and surrounding cities over traffic numbers contained in the Wynn Everett environmental filing (SFEIR), the state secretary for environmental affairs and MassDOT support those numbers and indicated they were formed using the same methods as those used for other casinos, including the Mohegan Sun project in Revere.
The Wynn SFEIR that was sent back to the drawing board last week contains some 38 pages of new critiques and suggestions from Secretary Matthew Beaton, but within those pages one will not find any dispute of the traffic numbers proposed by Wynn.
“Many comments continue to question the methodology for trip generation, including comments from the City of Boston, City of Somerville and the City of Revere,” read the secretary’s letter. “The methodology for the trip generation in the SFEIR is consistent with that which has been required of each of the casino proposals, including MGM Springfield, Project First Light and the proposed Mohegan Sun project in Revere.”
Several critics have suggested that Wynn’s numbers are not accurate and that the mitigation proposed will not help reduce traffic issues in Everett, Charlestown or the surrounding areas.
In a comment letter from Boston, the plan and numbers in the SFEIR were taken to task.
“In it’s lawsuit…and in communications with Wynn, the City has made it abundantly clear that it has expended considerable time, effort, resources and funds in formulating plans to transition Sullivan Square into a low-traffic pedestrian friendly neighborhood,” read the letter. “The plan described in Wynn’s SFEIR proposes a dramatic increase – rather than decrease – in traffic in Sullivan Square…The City recommends and expects that you will issue a determination that Wynn’s SFEIR on transportation is wholly inadequate.”
Meanwhile, as Charlestown residents meet with Wynn in the ongoing Engaged Charlestown Residents forums, a common roadblock in the traffic mitigation working group has been whether or not the traffic numbers were accurate. In a meeting on March 24 concerning traffic, many in the audience asked questions and got answers – but one question that couldn’t be answered was whether or not other entities agreed with Wynn’s numbers.
Secretary Beaton, however, wrote that MassDOT believes the numbers for traffic generation are correct.
“MassDOT states in its comments that the methodology used to estimate person trips for the project are adequately addressed, and the SFEIR includes updated trip generation summary tables that show all assumptions, land uses and changes in the development program,” read the letter. “In addition, MassDOT concurs with the credits taken in the SFEIR to calculate net trip generation. MassDOT comments…reiterate that, given the urban context of the project, the commitment to a strong TDM program, and the ability to hold the proponent accountable to site trip reduction strategies through monitoring and reporting, the project can assume a significant number of non-private vehicular trips.”
That said, the secretary’s letter did not go entirely soft on Wynn in discussing a number of things concerning Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue that will need to be improved upon. First and foremost is a call to bring peace between four entitles currently at odds – those being MassDOT, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC), Wynn and the City of Boston. Striking that peaceful existence – despite ongoing litigation – could be more difficult than the Middle East Peace Process, but will be a key to the casino moving forward, wrote Beaton.
“MassDOT has expressed concerns that the City’s vision for Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue and the proponent’s plans are not properly aligned,” he wrote. “MassDOT has called for a Second SFEIR, in part, to support a process to develop long-term improvements. This process would include participation by MassDOT, MGC, the proponent and the City of Boston. The success of this effort will be dependent on the active and constructive participation by all of the participants. I expect that all of the parties with participate constructively; however, building consensus with parties engaged in active litigation will be a significant challenge.”
Many have struggled with interpreting that specific comment – on whether it means a long-term plan has to be in place before a secretary’s certificate is granted, or just whether a process for getting that plan has been identified. The former would be a daunting task in a few months time, and many close to the situation said they believe it only means getting a process identified.
Already, last month, State Rep. Dan Ryan told the Patriot-Bridge that he’s ready to step up and lead any such long-term process. He said he hopes that he could begin those talks again on Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue with the Wynn project and the Wynn financial contribution in mind.
The introduction of Wynn, in fact, is one of the problems.
After an exhaustive process in 2012 – one that some in the neighborhood still aren’t satisfied with – the City agreed to a plan that cut Rutherford Avenue down from six lanes to four lanes and included greater pedestrian and bicycle access. That accord came long before any casino had been proposed for Everett. With the casino project seemingly knocking on the door of construction, the 2012 plan appears to be inadequate, Beaton noted.
Beaton noted that there are definite differences between the ideas of MassDOT and those of the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) for the area. While he credited Wynn for making great progress in talking to the parties, he did note that there wasn’t a meeting where all three were at the table at the same time.
“The SFEIR does not identify what required reconciling or identify how the resulting mitigation balances competing concerns,” he wrote. “The Response…does not acknowledge why the recommended consultation, which would provide a more direct way to reconcile competing concerns, did not occur. It is unclear whether the proponent attempted to convene a joint meeting to reconcile differences and was unable to secure participation from the parties or if other reasons prevented such a meeting. Regardless, a joint meeting was not held.”
In that same vein, MassDOT has concluded that the interim traffic plans have made significant progress. Meanwhile, Boston has registered that the interim plans are a big step back and will actually degrade traffic operations in the short-term. Beaton actually devotes several paragraphs in his letter to the concerns of Boston. Chief among those concerns are whether or not the Spice Street/D Street re-routing of traffic will actually remove some 20 percent of traffic from the rotary, and whether a left turn onto the Beacham Extension from Cambridge Street is realistic.
While Beaton agrees with Wynn and MassDOT on the traffic numbers – as noted above – he did point out that though no intersections will be made worse under the traffic models, some of the backups may not be practical.
“Although build with mitigation improves overall operations, many of the individual movements within these intersections are degraded further under the Build with Mitigation Condition, such as increases in delays, increases in volume to capacity ratios,” he wrote.
Wynn officials said late last week that they will continue working within the established forums conducted by Engaged Charlestown Residents to discuss and address the letter and concerns that were raised.
“We are reviewing Secretary Beaton’s letter and will develop a comprehensive response soon,” said Michael Weaver of Wynn Resorts. “We will continue our very productive and helpful work with the Charlestown group, including all of the working groups.”