Surface Option Selected for Rutherford Redesign
The Boston Transportation Department plans to fill in the existing underpasses at Austin Street and Sullivan Square in favor of an 'urban boulevard' design.
The decision is in: The new Rutherford Avenue design will eliminate the current underpasses in favor of a surface roadway.
“In partnership with the Charlestown community, we’re working to transform Rutherford Avenue from a highway to a neighborhood-friendly, urban boulevard,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino said in a press release distributed Tuesday. “Residents will be able to take advantage of new connections to the MBTA Orange Line, new greenspace for children to play and safe access to the Charles River. The new Rutherford Avenue will offer these and countless other opportunities to enhance quality of life for the people of Charlestown.”
At the time, the city was considering two options related to the Rutherford Avenue and Austin Street intersection—whether to maintain the existing underpass or whether to eliminate the underpass and bring the roadway to the surface, commonly referred to as the “surface option.” Charlestown residents spoke passionately at the Dec. 6 meeting for both options.
Now that a decision has been announced, Charlestown Neighborhood Council chairman Tom Cunha said he is looking forward to seeing the project move forward.
“I’m hoping from this point forward we can comment on the current design and not just keep going back to which design [should be selected],” Cunha said Tuesday. “I think [this decision] heals essentially an open wound in our community. We now have an opportunity as a community to be aggressive on [developing] a design that fits our needs so that Rutherford Avenue and the properties beyond will be accessible by the community.”
CNC Development Committee chairman Mark Rosenshein—who, incidentally, was reached on his cell phone while sitting in rush hour traffic on Rutherford Avenue—said he, too, is just glad the project has reached the next step.
“To me, the most important thing is to have made a decision, that some change will happen and that we can move forward with the design,” he said.
However, Rosenshein also acknowledged there is much work yet to be done.
“This is the beginning of the design process. It’s critical that the community continues to have the kind of participation we’ve had up until now,” he said, noting that residents would be asked to weigh in on everything from traffic signal operation to the number of lanes to be installed.
“We’re in the design process, but the city and state still have to raise somewhere between $80 and $90 million to do the actual construction," Rosenshein added. "This is not something that is going to happen tomorrow. We all need to put pressure on our representatives to find the funds to actually do the work.”
Though construction funding has not yet been secured, $11.5 million in federal funding has been earmarked for the final design and environmental review for Rutherford Avenue, and the city is looking to secure that funding now, according to the Mayor’s Office press release.
As for why BTD selected the surface option, the press release outlines several reasons, including expanded green space that will serve as a buffer between the roadway and nearby homes; safer pedestrian crossings and connections between the community and Sullivan Square and Community College MBTA stations; opportunity for new housing parcels at Sullivan Square; and connection of the Mystic River waterfront to the Charles River.
In addition, elimination of the Austin Street and Sullivan Square underpasses will result in “conventional surface streets with signalized intersections to manage traffic flow,” according to the Mayor’s Office.
Officials also maintain that the final design will feature enough traffic lanes to allow for smooth traffic flow and to protect the neighborhood from cut-through traffic—issues that have raised much concern at previous public meetings.
The design also will extend Spice Street to Rutherford Avenue, allowing Cambridge Street traffic to bypass the now bustling rotary.
“BTD appreciates the input and assistance that we have received from local residents and elected officials on this project,” BTD Commissioner Thomas J. Tinlin said in the press release. “We look forward to continuing our work with them through the final design process and the completion of construction on the new Rutherford Avenue.”