Officials from the Boston Transportation Department and consultants from Tetra Tech presented what they billed as a third, “hybrid” option for the redesign and redevelopment of the Rutherford Avenue/Sullivan Square corridor to the Charlestown Neighborhood Council’s transportation committee and roughly 100 residents last night at the new Knights of Columbus hall on Medford St.
Representatives from the offices of Rep. Mike Capuano and Boston City Councilor Sal LaMattina also attended the meeting, where residents heard a new proposal that melds elements of both the “surface” and “tunnel” options into a new, “hybrid” plan, featuring the removal of the underpass at Sullivan Square, while the Austin Street underpass would be rebuilt. The plan also addresses issues with pedestrian safety at the busy and hazardous Austin Street intersection, and adds traffic lights along the length of Rutherford Avenue.
But judging from the reactions of the crowd, the new plan does little to address concerns—real or not—about traffic diverting through the middle of the neighborhood rather than remaining routed around the outsides, and it did not appear to do much in the way of bringing the two sides any closer together.
According to Boston Transportation Commissioner Thomas J. Tinlin, the city will keep coming back to residents as many times as necessary in order to find a plan that works for the neighborhood of Charlestown and addresses as many concerns as possible.
“I said to the consultants: ‘Show me something on Austin Street that continues with some type of underpass that we can present to the community,’” said Tinlin. “That doesn’t mean were going to break out shovels and that will be the plan. We’re going to come back here as much as you want.”
The new plan was presented by Mike Hall from Tetra Tech, and focused on addressing issues raised by residents at previous meetings with the goal of bridging the gap between “surface” and “tunnel” option supporters.
For residents, however, it is clear many concerns remain.
“I think most of us are concerned with quality of life,” said resident Jerry Doherty, “and that we are going to trade trees for traffic. We don’t want our streets to become what they were before—gasoline alleys.”
The issue of traffic seems to be at the crux of the divide between “surface” and “tunnel” option proponents, with some concerned that an at-grade Rutherford Avenue would promote diversions through the interior of the neighborhood as motorists seek to avoid what “tunnel” option supporters feel would be unavoidable gridlock along the roadway.
The new plan appears to have done little to sway that sentiment. Hall, however, stated he believes the “surface” option would be adequate for traffic volume, and that the placement of traffic lights would serve to slow drivers down.
Another issue related to traffic is the fact that commuters from surrounding communities use Rutherford Avenue as a means to get to and from downtown Boston every day, and, while last night’s meeting was aimed solely towards the people of Charlestown, as Vineet Gupta, director of planning for the BTD pointed out, they have been in contact with Somerville and Cambridge, and will be speaking with civic leaders from other nearby towns as well. He also pointed out that Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone has voiced support for the “surface” option in the past.
A member of the neighborhood council asked which plan would be more costly, to which Hall responded that he believes any option featuring underpasses would be inherently more costly than without.
Another question was the potential timetable for the project, which is projected to cost some $80-90 million in total.
Gupta indicated it would likely be almost seven years until construction would actually start.
Nathan Blanchet, a Charlestown resident and member of the Rutherford Corridor Improvement Coalition read from a prepared statement.
“The Rutherford Coalition remains strongly in favor of the surface option as originally endorsed by the CNC,” he said. “We feel that rebuilding the tunnel is a costly, unnecessary and undesirable change to the concept that the community carefully debated for two years and that many more people have now discussed. That basic concept is the right one for what people in Charlestown value in their neighborhood.”
According to the Tinlin and the Tetra Tech representatives, the next step is to go back, with the community feedback from last night, and try to make some revisions based on what they heard before coming back before the neighborhood in the future.
Residents asked for information like health impact statements, better traffic figures and a decibel count to gauge the potential noise levels that could result from the new design.
For more information watch the video of Commissioner Tinlin’s opening remarks.