Edwards Pushing for Rutherford Avenue Surface Option, City Officials Say Plan Will Still Contain Underpasses

Rutherford Avenue is a rather straight piece of road, but planning for it has had as many twists and turns as a mountain pass.

In what has been an unexpected twist in the planning for Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square, members of the City Council’s Transportation Committee – including Charlestown Councilor Lydia Edwards – are holding up a $250,000 grant to further the planning of the corridor. However, Edwards said she wants the plan to take a real look at the Surface Option without tunnels, while the City has said that the decision on including tunnels has long been over.

“I’m really pushing for full transportation on their analysis,” she said. “With the Surface Option, you can re-pave or adjust the lanes or move toward a tunnel…I want to know why we are creating this dichotomy if we don’t have to…One thing that concerns me is that we hear this needs to happen fast because we could lose the money. My concern is this is a decision with permanent consequences…I’m really pushing for full analysis of both. I want a real decision. If there’s a way to connect both of them, let’s do that.”

Edwards said she was concerned that the Boston Transportation Department didn’t analyze a full, seven-lane option when making its decision to include underpasses. Instead, she said, they analyzed a older, smaller-lane plan that was designed to fail.

A lot of these issues, she said, were discussed last week in a meeting with BTD Planner Jim Gillooly, State Rep. Dan Ryan, Northeastern Professor Peter Furth, Councilor Michelle Wu, and herself.

Gillooly said he believed the effort was simply bringing everyone up to speed on what the process has been in the past, and where it is going – which does include underpasses.

“We clearly want to keep vehicles off the side streets and allow regional traffic to flow through and not go on Bunker Hill Street, Chelsea Street and Medford Street to avoid traffic,” he said. “Underpasses allows us to do these things…There are people in new  positions and on new committees and they need to ask some questions. We’re always open to new ideas. If we see something in anything submitted to us, you could see it morph into our plan, but that plan would still have the underpasses.”

Gillooly said he expected a release vote to happen very soon for the $250,000 grant – which is needed to further the design process and keep the project on track.

State Rep. Dan Ryan said the effort right now is just another stop in a project that has been vetted over and over again since the 1980s, which no solution ever emerging. He said now is the time to move forward with the decision that’s been made.

He said he looks forward to continuing to work with the two councilors on the issue.

“I truly appreciate their due diligence on behalf of our neighborhood,” he said. “What this long-awaited project needed to move forward was governmental leadership. Mayor Walsh and the BTD have provided that. It is time to get this project done to the best of our ability. It has been vetted since the 1980s. We have a plan to move forward. It is a good plan with the potential of being a great one if everyone is on board.”

But Edwards doesn’t seem as convinced as many might think, at least according to her comments this week.

“If the Surface Option can work, it could save us millions of dollars, and it could be something that moves toward a tunnel if the analysis shows that’s best,” she said.

She said that the BTD promised to consider and respond to Furth’s comments and critiques that were presented at last week’s meeting. Until then, it appears there will be no vote to release the money.

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