North End and Downtown Impact from Proposed Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue Project

The proposed Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue redesign project has caused quite a stir in Charlestown, but it is also starting to attract attention for its potential traffic impacts from downtown Boston, including the North End. One option under consideration, known as the “surface option,” will fill in the highway-like underpasses through Sullivan Square and could substantially increase traffic congestion from downtown Boston and the Charlestown Bridge.

In addition to removing the underpasses, the Sullivan Square redesign would also narrow Rutherford Avenue and replace the surface rotary by the Schrafft’s Center with a grid-like traffic light intersection. From a Boston commuter perspective, as much as 40% of traffic on the current underpasses are passing through Charlestown. Under the “surface option,” this traffic would now be on surface roads.

The Zoning, Licensing & Construction Committee of the North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA) is one neighborhood group asking the Boston Transportation Department to hold a community meeting. The committee is asking for an opportunity for public comment from North Enders and for BTD to explain the impact to residents on the downtown side of the bridge.

Recent news articles indicate that Charlestown residents have expressed mixed views on the proposal after several meetings there, including one on May 17, 2011 with US Congressman Mike Capuano. Federal funding of $17 million has been secured for the project which is estimated to cost $70-$80 million in total. Proponents of the surface option, including the Charlestown Neighborhood Council, say that filling in the underpasses and making a boulevard would foster development and improve the flow of vehicles. Other residents are concerned that removing the four lanes of underpasses will simply move traffic onto neighboring streets, including Main Street.

A Boston Transportation Department analysis indicates that traffic congestion will not increase. “Today, traffic congestion at Sullivan Square is due to a badly designed and dangerous rotary, not because of inadequate lanes of traffic,” from a BTD press release. “The new design eliminates the rotary and replaces it with conventional surface streets and signalized intersections to manage traffic-flow and provides Rutherford Avenue with enough traffic lanes to continue to provide for smooth traffic-flow to Everett and to account for removing the underpass.” GlobeWatch recently focused on issues surrounding the Schrafft’s Center congestion during rush hours. (See “Sullivan Square Free-For-All”)

North End and downtown Boston residents have already been negatively impacted by dwindling access routes to I-93 North. An access ramp immediately north of the Charlestown Bridge to I-93 was removed years ago without replacement. Then, the Sullivan Square overpass to I-93 North was torn down due to structural issues. This access was also never replaced. If traffic through Sullivan Square is further restricted, the remaining option for North Enders is to backtrack to the I-93 North entrance near Cross Street and N. Washington Street. This added traffic could increase congestion on Hanover, Commercial and N. Washington Streets in the North End.

With conflicting views on the Sullivan Square project from Charlestown residents and more attention on the regional impacts, officials say that their plans are still preliminary and will continue to undergo engineering and traffic flow review.

More information on the City’s plans for Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square can be found at:

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