Capuano Hopes Casino Will Spur Regional Discussion

Congressman Michael Capuano weighed in this week – as he has in the past – on the traffic discussions that have once again come up in Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue – saying he hoped that the latest rounds of discussion spurred by the Wynn casino proposal could result in careful thought and a successful regional master plan that likely doesn’t include downsizing the corridor.

“I hope the casino – good, bad or indifferent – if there’s one positive aspect of it, that it would be getting this discussion at the top of the list,” he said. “I think, no matter what happens, it will. I know people in Charlestown want to make Rutherford Avenue into some small cute neighborhood street and keep everyone out, but that’s not going to work…Charlestown, like most of my district, is part of a commuter trail to work. It has to be seen that way…I’m really looking forward to getting the process started. It will be difficult. There will be passionate people on both sides. I think if it gets done and done in the typical fashion, it can improve a lot of people’s lives. I think it can be done and will be done and, once this casino issue is settled, I hope we can get back to doing it.”

Capuano has spent many years – long before he was even a congressman – opposing the Big Dig and to this day says it has a lot to do with the problems that linger all over Greater Boston, most obviously a place like Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue.

Capuano said the Big Dig has sucked up almost every transportation dollar for its sole purpose, and has left places like Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue in the lurch for decades – holding on to an infrastructure built for a different time and place, but trying to handle the pressures of modern Greater Boston.

“During the project and now after the project, it has had an impact on traffic flows, how people get around and go to work,” he said. “During all that, the City of Boston decided to take down a couple of overpasses without really informing anyone. Certainly, they were dangerous, but they helped people getting out of the city and allowed traffic to stay out of the rotary…It really congested Sullivan Square more than ever before…Unfortunately, there are many of these areas and Sullivan Square is one of the more obvious ones. The road is old and needs to be fixed. Everyone knows that. It’s not even well striped.

“It’s a regional feeder into Boston; people need to realize that,” he continued. “It was designed to keep regional traffic off of Main Street and Bunker Hill Street and it has done a pretty good job of that. I don’t want all the traffic turning back to Main Street and Bunker Hill Street again, and I think it will. People have to come and go – the people of Everett and Somerville.”

Capuano said one glaring problem is the I-93 exit and the fact that there is no I-93 entry ramp on northbound – despite the fact that one can still see the makings of such a ramp near the Rt. 1 exit.

“That was silly that they didn’t do that and it would be relatively inexpensive to re-connect it,” he said. “That’s part of the process and just one piece of it. I would argue that should be part of the discussion…Sullivan Square, like many old rotaries, are due for and need to be fixed. There is no golden solution, but if we do it the right way, it could improve a lot of people’s lives and it could have some real economic development aspects that it could open up as well. There is a lot of underutilized land in that immediate area.”

Part of that thinking process, he said, is to include the whole corridor.

He said fixing the traffic should take into consideration the North Washington Street Bridge, Rutherford Avenue, Sullivan Square, Alford Street and up to Lower Broadway in Everett.

To that end, Capuano said he has made sure to get earmarks over the years for that corridor to spark discussion, pointing to a $4 million earmark for the bridge and $13 million in federal money for Rutherford Avenue. Some of that money was marked to be used for the Surface Option that was planned by the City of Boston and announced a few years ago. However, that was right about the time that the Wynn casino began to materialize as a real entity and major Assembly Row construction and expansion projects were announced.

“Right at the end of that process, we have a casino enter the mix and everything is on hold, as it should be,” he said. “I think it is a planning process that should go from the North Washington Street Bridge all the way to Sullivan Square and beyond up Alford Street. All of that should be part of a master plan to make the lives of Charlestown people better and understand it is a region access road for people to get to work.”

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