There’s no painting it any other way – there’s going to be major traffic on the June 23 opening day of the Encore Boston Harbor resort casino and even in the days after – but choosing a slow time of year for the opening and other precautions, the company told Charlestown neighbors, would hopefully help lighten the load.
“I am telling you there’s going to be traffic and we know that,” said Jim Folk of Encore. “It’s the opening of one of the largest resorts on the East Coast. We know many people will want to come see it. What we can do is mitigate it with our plan. If we see traffic hot spots, we can adjust accordingly, and we’ve been working closely with our partners to plan for that…We are not doing this in a bubble. We have a competent transportation plan…We are going to be monitoring the roads carefully.”
The comments came during a whirlwind traffic roundup meeting on Thursday, May 23, sponsored by State Rep. Dan Ryan and the City of Boston. The meeting was focused on the Encore opening plan, as well as a number of other projects in the pipeline.
Since February, Folk and Encore have been meeting regularly with Everett, Boston, Chelsea, Medford and state officials on the plan and its contingencies.
Officers from Everett, Boston, Medford, Chelsea and the State Police working on forced overtime will be stationed at locations in a radius all around the resort. But beyond that, Folk said they have chosen the date wisely.
They didn’t pick July 4, or a Saturday in May for a reason.
He said June 23, historically, is a slow time of the year for traditional traffic in Greater Boston, and having it start on Sunday would give them a full week to work out the kinks before a full weekend.
“The last thing that we wanted to do was impact people’s commute going to work,” said Folk. “That’s why we chose that date. We believe traffic will be much lighter on a Sunday and it’s during a time when school is out. That is also a week when a lot of people take a vacation and leave Boston. There’s not usually a lot going on then.”
However, while a number of Charlestown residents were impressed with the depth of the plan, they were also worried about whether the casino was concerned about their quality of life, or the ease of their customers getting to the resort.
“I think you’ve really come up with a thoughtful plan, but I’m worried about when I need to get to Costco (in the Gateway Mall),” said one resident. “It seems to me it’s not going to be any easier to get to Costco from Charlestown. Your focus is to get people to the casino, not for it to be easier for me to get to Costco.”
Added Elaine Donovan, “I think you’re going to need to give all of us in the surrounding communities anti-depressants. We’re never going to be able to get out of here.”
Folk said it isn’t going to be easy at first, but he did stress that their busiest times of the week are not 9-5 on any day. He said they expect their crowds in the long run to come between 6-9 p.m. at night and on the weekends.
As previously reported, the casino is stressing alternative forms of transportation, including their own water shuttles, shuttles from Wellington/Malden Stations, a neighborhood shuttle in Everett and Chelsea, and luxury motor coaches for regional trips.
Beyond that, one major mitigation piece they are planning comes in response to the overwhelming popularity of RideShare companies like Uber and Lyft. Encore believes many patrons will be using such services during the opening days – scared away by the $42 fee for self-parking in the underground garage, or $49 for valet parking. The last thing, Folk said, they want is a bunch of RideShare drivers clogging up Lower Broadway, Main Street and Bunker Hill Street while waiting for a call to pick up or drop off at the casino.
To combat that, Folk said they worked with the companies to create a “Geo Fence” for the property. They also have created a RideShare lot across the street for about 100 cars. Using the “Geo Fence” technology, calls coming from the casino for a ride will only be able to be received by drivers in the RideShare lot. It’s a technology that was used at Logan Airport with some success, and Folk believes it will keep unnecessary traffic off of Lower Broadway – which is the prime mission during the first opening days.
“We’re trying to keep as many vehicles off Broadway and off of Charlestown streets as possible,” he said. “We’re telling people to use Malden Station and use Wellington Station – where we will have luxury shuttles.”
One question came regarding why there were no shuttles from Sullivan Square, and if that was a slight to the Charlestown community.
Folk said that was a condition of their license from the state, and it came because regulators felt shuttle would only add to the traffic in Sullivan Square. The decision was to try to help Charlestown residents, he said, not to make it harder for them. He added there are numerous MBTA buses that currently run from Sullivan Square, and their first stops would be in front of Encore.
Another piece of the shuttle plan for employees and for those coming on the Orange Line is to let them out on Mystic View Road in the Gateway Mall property. Those arriving will be let out at the new HarborWalk, where they will walk under the railroad bridge and onto the new landscaped courtyard.
“We will be bringing people into Gateway Mall in Everett and they will be let out there from the shuttles to walk to the resort,” he said. “They are not going to line up on Broadway or line up into Sullivan Square. We will use Mystic View Road for the drop-offs and pick-ups during the first days.”
When it comes to law enforcement, they will have officers from all over the area – including Everett, Chelsea, Boston and Medford.
Folk said they have 63 State Troopers from Troop A alone committed to them, and 13 Boston Police officers, 13 Everett Police Officers, 13 Medford Police Officers, and six Chelsea Police Officers.
“We are going to reimburse overtime,” he said. “These officers will be there. It’s not details where they might not show up. We will have these law enforcement officers in place.”
Other measures that will be used:
•There will be 21 message boards pointing drivers in the right directions.
•There will be 1,300 parking spaces at Station Landing that Encore will use. That will be for employees mostly, and there will also be the Everett RiverGreen parking lot for overflow – which will be connected to the resort with the new Neighborhood Shuttle and avoid Charlestown altogether.
SULLIVAN SQUARE WORK COMING TO A CLOSE
Encore’s Al Carrier presented at the Charlestown Transportation meeting on Thursday, May 23, and told residents the work on Sullivan Square and Sullivan Station is nearly completed.
“Over the years, it’s going to be at $500 million in infrastructure investments,” he said. “Just shy of $100 million comes from us at Encore. We’ve spent $68 million on Sullivan Square and there’s another $25 million set aside for long-term plans on Rutherford Avenue. It hasn’t been easy. We will have a shared objective though to make things better in the long term.”
Carrier said they have spent about $12 million making the MBTA station more accessible and safer for pedestrians, as well as reconfiguring the roadway to allow drivers coming and going to Somerville to make that movement without going into the Square. The Station also has new bus berths, an additional circulation bus lane, new sidewalks, a new parking lot and better lighting.
“I’m happy to say we’re completing work on the Station at the end of the month,” said Carrier.
New traffic signals in the Sullivan Square area were reported activated last weekend, most notably the new light from Spice and Beacham Street – which is the new road that allows the travel in and out of Somerville.
Landscaping in the Square, striping, paving and new sidewalks are almost done, he reported.
“At this stage, we’re pretty much wrapping up Sullivan Square,” he said. “Further down 99, we’ll be wrapping that up in a few weeks.”
Mary Boucher and Elaine Donovan said they were disappointed with the striping and markings that have been put in the Square – particularly the fat yellow lines and the new dotted lines headed towards Cambridge Street.
“You can’t figure out where you’re supposed to be,” said Boucher. “What are the dotted lines for?”
Said Donovan, “There’s just too much going on there. It’s confusing.”
Carrier said the markings are part of the City of Boston’s Complete Streets plan, and Encore only followed the guidelines required by the City.