By Seth Daniel
Sometimes going back to the drawing board can’t be avoided.
It wasn’t long ago that a plan was decided upon for Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue – a plan that saw the future of the area with a surface option and the elimination of the tunnel and more of a neighborhood feel to the commuter thoroughfare.
It took years to make that decision, but no one contemplated a casino, the mammoth Assembly Square project and loads of development on the northern edges of downtown Boston – all of which has spilled onto the corridor and the Square and caused a major re-thinking of that tough decision from a few years back.
On June 30, the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) will bring that process back to the community to discuss early plans drawn up for the beginning half of the corridor – near the Washington Avenue Bridge and City Square – with a mind to come back in the fall for further discussion on Sullivan Square. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. in the Knights of Columbus Hall, 545 Medford St.
The goal, said Jim Gillooly – a planner for BTD – is to get started on construction for the whole corridor by 2020.
“What we’ll be doing on June 30 is starting to talk about the early options we’ve begun to sketch up and re-examine some options people might have seen before and were set aside and take a look at them in a very concerted way,” he said. “We progressed to that design now because many of the uncertainties have been resolved. We are now intent on going full speed ahead, but we’re going to need the community’s support. That’s why we’re coming out to get this started. We have a desire to begin full construction in 2020.”
He said most of the discussion on June 30 would revolve around the first half of the corridor, from the bridge to City Square and Austin Street.
“This will be some of our early ideas for City Square and north of Austin Street – the southern half of the corridor,” he said. “We’ll come back with more thoughts on Sullivan Square. In the fall, I believe we’ll be coming back with certainty on this southern half design and start a conversation about options for Sullivan Square. We’re going to have a lot of work to do through the summer.”
State Rep. Dan Ryan has been a vocal proponent of starting up the Sullivan Square planning effort again, and praised the mayor and BTD for getting out to the Town to re-start talks.
“I thank Mayor Walsh and BTD for their continued efforts toward a workable Rutherford Ave/Sullivan Square,” he said. “Now that the major developments at different points along the corridor are visible and real this will make for a more tangible discussion. We now have real population density numbers and traffic counts on which to focus rather than planning a dream road to nowhere.”
Gillooly said part of the problem with the previous decision was that it relied upon 2008 traffic counts and didn’t contemplate the scope of development that ended up taking shape around the Town.
That included the Wynn casino, the Hood project, the Boston Housing Authority redevelopment of the Bunker Hill Development, Assembly Square development, downtown north developments like Converse and even ancillary casino developments in Everett.
He said the actual counts and assumptions about development soon after the decision became obviously flawed.
“The plan we had didn’t anticipate having the kind of traffic from Alford Street coming to and from the casino,” he said. “We needed to take that into consideration. When the dust settled on the casino issue, we determined that the 2008 numbers were too dated to rely on so we re-activated our contract with the traffic consultant and we went out and updated those traffic counts.”
He said the consultant conducted those counts last fall.
When those numbers came in, Gillooly said they began to re-examine the last planning effort.
“We are re-examining our conclusions from the last planning effort,” he said. “That’s what we’re in the middle of and what we want to start briefing the community on. We very clearly want to preserve the same goals from the previous process. It’s all about pedestrian connections that are good in Sullivan Square. We want to make sure those pedestrian connections are safe. The Orange Line and buses are all on one side and most of the neighborhood lives on the other side. We need to make sure those connections work.”