By Seth Daniel
In every major issue, there is a moment when it’s time to get down to brass tacks.
With the Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue traffic planning process – which was reignited last summer after so much major development around the corridor caused a reconsideration of an existing plan – the brass tack is a concrete underpass and at the Oct. 26 meeting with the Boston Transportation Department (BTD), that long-time disagreement will come to a head.
After a meeting in June that addressed the Rutherford Avenue corridor from North Washington Street Bridge to Austin Street, the October 26 meeting will focus on the stretch from Austin Street to Sullivan Square. Most importantly, it will bring to issue the underpass, BTD Deputy Commissioner Jim Gillooly said.
“We’re doing this realizing that there will be a casino and we plan to work with the various departments in government to be up to date with all development coming to Boston and to Charlestown that surrounds the corridor – as well as also working with Everett and Somerville,” he said. “We’re working to be as smart as we can be as we do this re-design process. A lot of the new economic development will be putting demand on the corridor…It means looking at the recommendation of an underpass there as a possible option to do with the casino coming and with 26,000 vehicle trips going through that underpass today…We’re dealing with a Sullivan Square where we want to retain a new grid of streets and want a circle designed to reflect the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists and a new grid of streets…On the 26th is when we’ll look at options of how you go about doing the underpass and also retaining the streets above and how they can work with an underpass.”
In the previous iteration of the planning process, which came before talk of a Wynn casino or the breadth of Assembly Row development was realized, neighbors chose a “surface option” for the corridor that would have eliminated the underpass and built a new grid of streets to reconnect Sullivan Square to the larger Town. That option was chosen, but was always in contention among the Town. As new development emerged in Charlestown, and more importantly all around the perimeter of Charlestown, the City shelved the plan. Last summer, they announced they would have a new round of meetings to work out a new plan that would recognize new, significant development.
Hinting at where the City might be leaning, though he stressed they will be there to do the bidding of the community, Gillooly seemed to indicate they hoped for the best of both worlds – perhaps agreeing on an option that would have some form of an underpass and also build the new street grid over the structure. That, he indicated, would be presented as one of many options for the public to digest.
The Wynn Boston Harbor casino has long taken the stance that they have no preference as to whether the underpass continues or not, opting to say instead that they believe it to be a community decision and would stand by whatever the community wants.
Gillooly said the project manager on the design is Bill Conroy, but as deputy commissioner, he has taken a leading role in helping out the process – also serving on the Regional Roundtable for Sullivan Square long-term planning that is coordinated by the state Department of Transportation.
He said it might be a mixed blessing that the former option wasn’t built out, given all of the demands that are headed for the corridor. Also, the advent of new technology for traffic management would not have been so sophisticated under the old plan as it will be once the new plan is agreed upon and implemented in years to come.
“Sometimes when something gets delayed it can be a good thing because if things are changing around it and it’s done, you can’t do anything,” he said. “In those times, you almost regret building it too soon…We’re on an economic wave and we need to do our best to make sure we get in infrastructure that supports that economic development…The other relevant piece is the continued development in Assembly Square, the coming Hood Campus development, the 2,200 addition units of housing that will be built on Bunker Hill Street and some other project too. That will add significant demand to this area and we have to make sure we’re using intelligent transportation systems as we plan and build this. We will want to use the best technology available.”
Other things to consider, he said, is the Everett Transit Action Plan – which recently was unveiled and proposes to send more buses to Sullivan Square and further into Boston via Rutherford Avenue. He said they will continue to coordinate with the MBTA on that to make sure the re-routing of buses is considered in any final options.
“We’ll be all in on that,” Gillooly said.
Furthermore, he said this meeting will be only the second of four planned meetings. He said to expect additional meetings in February 2017 and in June 2017. He said he wants the public to understand it is a long process and not a one-shot meeting where decisions will be made downtown.
“Within the next two meetings, we’ll get to a point where we should have a lot of definitions for what our preferred option is,” he said. “We’re not trying to work our design until we’ve finished all our analysis…We want to really clearly define the options…By June, we’ll know the direction we’re going.”
That will only unlock a design portion, he said, and there will be significant engineering work to be done – such as on the underpass portion if it is to be retained. Much engineering work will go into addressing whether or not the existing structure can be used in any capacity.
“We have a lot of work to do there with engineering,” he said.
The latest that the project would be bid out is in 2020, and Gillooly said they truly hope to get moving before that.
The meeting will take place on Weds., Oct. 26, at 6:30 p.m. in the Knights of Columbus, 545 Medford St.