Tunnel Removal Plan to be Reassessed,Planning Process to Begin

By Seth Daniel

In 2013, the City and a group of some residents decided to move forward with the ‘surface option’ plan for Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square that would, among other things, remove the tunnel pass-through, but just as that plan moves further into design, this week the City said it will reassess that conceptual plan using new data.

City officials said this week – just as the tunnel elimination has come into view with regards to the Wynn Everett casino and the Assembly Row developments – that it will reassess the surface option plan and start the planning process again.

“The City is in the beginning stages of advancing the design for the Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue Project from the concept plan created several years ago up to the 25 percent design level,” said Bonnie McGilpin of the Mayor’s Office. “Measures already completed include ground survey work and the collection of new traffic counts. Presently, the City is assessing the concept plan in light of this new data and in respect to new information about projected growth in the area, including the Wynn Casino. Over the next couple of months the City will come to a conclusion as to what, if any, design changes should be considered. Once the analytical work is complete, the City will be re-commencing the community process.”

The surface option plan has always been a mixed bag in Charlestown, with the neighborhood split on the idea for many years before the final decision came to pass in 2013. The idea looks to remove Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square and replace them with a City street layout that includes development – as well as the filling in and elimination of the tunnel. While it was a mixed bag in Charlestown, the idea has been wildly unpopular in surrounding communities – whose commuters routinely rely on the Avenue and the tunnel to get to and from Boston.

That regional approach to the area has now gained ground with a Regional Working Group for Sullivan Square Long-Term planning led by State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. The idea of removing the tunnel within the confines of that group has all but been ignored, some Charlestown resident who favor the ’surface option’ say.

Those residents filed a detailed letter with the state Department of Transportation (MDOT) last week as part of the Wynn environmental process – a piece of the law known as the Section 61 findings. Those findings were issued to the public last month, and the 46 residents that signed the letter did so in comment to those findings.

Among their many questions were that of the tunnel and the surface option plan, and just how that would fit within the Wynn plan – which they said seems to assume the tunnel will remain.

“Wynn’s mitigation plan for Sullivan Square requires preservation of the existing Rutherford Avenue Tunnel,” read the letter. “The Tunnel and all affected roadways in Sullivan Square and the Rutherford Avenue Corridor are owned, controlled, and maintained exclusively by the City of Boston. To be kept, the Tunnel requires extensive annual maintenance, at considerable cost to City taxpayers.

“[The surface option] plan requires the elimination of the Tunnel to introduce a pedestrian-friendly street grid system and transit oriented redevelopment – consistent with MassDOT’s long-term goals,” continued the letter. “It also fundamentally requires a decrease in vehicular traffic, while the Wynn plan demands a dramatic increase. The City’s preferred plan and the Wynn casino are simply incompatible. The Tunnel is literally a decaying, hulking structure that together with the Sullivan Square rotary bisects the area. It cuts off pedestrian and bicycle movement and is entirely inconsistent with MassDOT’s ‘Complete Streets’ goals. The Wynn mitigation proposal for Sullivan Square requires that the City continue to maintain the Tunnel.”

State Rep. Dan Ryan said he views the City’s comments as a re-starting of the process, which he believes was always open-ended and needs another look considering all of the development surrounding Charlestown – including the casino.

“To my recollection The Sullivan Square/Rutherford Ave discussion was always open-ended,” he said. “Yes, there was an eight month process over what is now a 13-year period since the overpasses were removed. People who like the result of that one little piece will point to that process to claim unanimous community consent. But, anyone with their eyes and ears open to the whole community knows there were far more questions that were ignored than answered. We are now living with the results of that governmental inaction. There is still no answer as to where all those pedestrian crossings were going. Maybe it was so we could walk our recycling over to Casella. Everything government has touched in that area over 40 years it has screwed up. We finally have the resources and the right people paying attention to get it right. A proper master plan with coordination among all entities, including the BRA and Wynn, is the only way forward.”

He also added that while there is a segment of the neighborhood that is still in favor of the surface option, he doesn’t believe it represents a majority right now.

“If the people who are still saying we shouldn’t have a tunnel were the majority, I wouldn’t be the state representative right now.”

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