Congressman Mike Capuano will be in the neighborhood Wednesday for a meeting that is months in the making and could determine the future redesign of Sullivan Square.
Capuano and the Charlestown Neighborhood Council will host a public discussion on the city’s plan to fill in the Sullivan Square underpass and transform the area into a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly roadway. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus.
After hosting eight public meetings over the course of 18 months, the Boston Transportation Department was poised to begin the next design phase on the Sullivan Square project. But last fall, Capuano, who represents the area and sits on the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, interrupted the process with concerns that the design would cause more traffic backups in Charlestown. The council has been trying to schedule a meeting with Capuano since then to address his questions.
And in the meantime, citizen groups have mobilized on both sides of the issue. Two petitions have been circulating Charlestown, both for and against the city’s plan — one arguing the Sullivan Square redesign has already won neighborhood support and the other insisting that the public process was incomplete. The momentum behind the both should make for a lively meeting with the congressman.
What they’re saying
Surface Option Supporters is a local group siding with the city’s Transportation Department. About a dozen residents who say they were actively involved in the public hearing process are driving the initiative. What’s their position?
“We want to change an eight lane highway to a city boulevard and give the area back to the neighborhood,” said organizer Tony McGuinness. And, they point out, this is the plan the community endorsed among a variety of options presented by the city.
Former Charlestown Neighborhood Councilor John Dillon and current CNC member Bill Galvin are leading the opposition to the approved Sullivan Square redesign, claiming the city misrepresented the plan to the Charlestown Neighborhood Council from the beginning and, moreover, that officials didn’t advertise the meetings properly.
Dillon and Galvin argue, like Capuano, that removing the underpass will effectively create more of a traffic jam — not just on Main Street, but in surrounding communities as well.
Surface Option Supporters counter that: they say the city conducted traffic studies as part of the initial design phase — one study even shows that traffic in Sullivan Square has actually decreased since 1997.
“Currently there are eight to 10 lanes on Rutherford Avenue, including those in Sullivan Square. …[the] Surface Option will decrease travel lanes to four to six lanes (including turn lanes) because of excess capacity on the road,” according to the group’s web site.
The Neighborhood Council meeting
A majority the Neighborhood Council, which serves an advisory role to the city, has already OK’d the city’s plan to redesign Sullivan Square. When Capuano alerted the council with his concerns, members did not take the news lightly — several considered his complaint an 11th hour disturbance in an otherwise smooth and comprehensive public process.
Council members will look for an explanation from the congressman at Wednesday’s meeting. City officials will likely be seeking the same. Earlier this month the Transportation Department addressed the issue with a press release. Here’s an excerpt:
"Today, traffic congestion at Sullivan Square is due to a badly designed and dangerous rotary, not because of inadequate lanes of traffic. The new design:
- Eliminates the rotary and replaces it with conventional surface streets and signalized intersections to manage traffic-flow,
- Provides Rutherford Avenue with enough traffic lanes to continue to provide for smooth traffic-flow to Everett and to account for removing the underpass,
- Extends Spice Street to Rutherford Avenue to allow for Cambridge Street traffic to bypass the rotary area.”
Want to read more? Check out our primer on Both Sides of the Debate.
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