The City’s Transportation Department (BTD) hit a major milestone with the generational reconfiguration project of Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square this month in filing 25 percent design documents – a design that now does not favor a center-lane Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) program on Rutherford.
The design process for any major transportation project – particularly one that is driven by the state and federal governments – runs rather slow in the early years when preliminary designs are in the works. However, once the 25 percent milestone is reached, timelines usually speed up.
“This is real now and moving forward,” said BTD Project Manager Bill Conroy. “The train has left the station at 25 percent design. The whole project begins to now pick-up speed. The project is very real and we want every viewpoint heard as we move through the other design milestones.”
The 25 percent design was submitted to the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) on Oct. 5 and is under review with a 60-day comment period now in effect. Once that wraps up, the City expects to have a general public meeting on the milestone in late January, which will likely be online.
Conroy said they expect to have the 75 percent milestone in June 2021, and 100 percent design in November 2021. A public bid on the project is optimistically expected for January 2022 or late spring. Construction would likely start in late summer 2022, and the $151 million project would conclude likely in 2027.
“Getting to this 25 percent milestone means a lot to Charlestown residents and to the City,” said Mayoral Liaison Quinlan Locke. “Once we get through 25 percent design, you’ll see a lot of expedited work going on…It’s going to happen pretty quickly…We’re going to have a good project, and exponentially better than what we have out there now. The residents of Charlestown deserve a system that works for them.”
One thing that now doesn’t work in the project is the center-lane BRT idea, which stormed into the public sphere all over the region over the last two years. Such ideas have taken hold in projects on Columbus Avenue in Jamaica Plain, but have lost favor in Charlestown – as well as in Everett where the idea was championed for roadways running into Charlestown like Lower Broadway and Alford Street.
Conroy said the center-lane BRT was contemplated in the plan last year, but isn’t there now. He said the MBTA would rather their bus routes terminate at Sullivan Square, and he said a Silver Line extension and Commuter Rail stop is being studied by MassDOT for Sullivan Square – making the BRT idea less attractive.
“At this point in time, we’re not building that,” he said. “We’ve spoken to the MBTA and they would like their bus routes to terminate at Sullivan Station…There are some people that would like to see BRT right down the full length of Rutherford Avenue. To do that, we would have to lose width and you wouldn’t get that boulevard look and the safe crossing areas for pedestrians we’re trying to create. We’ve made that very clear. We’re not eliminating the idea, but we’re not looking to go down the center of Rutherford Avenue with it.”
The project does still contain the refurbished underpass, which would be one-lane in either direction (but wide enough for two lanes) and be decked over. That decking would create a street grid pattern that would create a more liveable environment and open up development on several key sites in Sullivan Square. The plan also includes the shared paths, the park/open space, bike paths, more signaled stop lights and numerous pedestrian crossings that serve to unite mainland Charlestown with the industrial side. There is also a part of the plan still in existence that increases the size of Ryan Playground – and that’s something the Parks Department is currently studying in their programming for the Field.
“We absolutely couldn’t have gotten to this point without the hard work of others over so many years,” said Conroy. “This project fluctuated in so many directions. We’re finally there and feel great about that and have support of MassDOT, the Federal Highways, the MBTA and the neighbors.”
The Oct. 5 submission was a re-submitted update to previous plans that were submitted in August 2018 prior to the development of the Encore casino and many of the Assembly Row buildings.
Tegin Teich of the Boston MPO said the reconstruction project is programmed and funded in the 2021-25 plan. The MPO only has funding through five years, so the final two years of the project in 2026 and 2027 would need funding in the next round of federal monies.
As it stands today, this is the yearly funding breakdown (which is potentially revisited each year as the TIP is updated):
•2026 and 2027: These years are not yet funded.
The project costs right now are $146.37 million, and there is a substantial amount of money that has been contributed by Wynn Resorts as part of the mitigation plan for opening Encore Boston Harbor resort. The casino in 2014 committed to making $20 million in improvements to the corridor in alignment with the long-term plan for Rutherford/Sullivan. Some $5 million of that was spent on short-term improvements that are already completed. Another $15 million goes directly to the long-term project. The casino committed to spending a total of $65 million in traffic improvements for the area more than six years ago.