After an extended and contentious debate in Charlestown, the City has selected the Surface Option for the Sullivan Square and Rutherford redesign project. For Charlestown residents, the Surface Option is more pedestrian friendly, increases greenspace and access to the Charles River while the City gains significant development opportunities.
The Surface Option redesign could increase traffic delays for commuters traveling between Charlestown and Downtown Boston / North End over the N. Washington Bridge. Some Charlestown residents are also concerned the change will push more traffic to their side streets.
The major change will fill in the underpasses at Austin Street and Sullivan Square and instead use a conventional surface grid-like intersection pattern with traffic lights. As much as 40% of traffic on the current underpasses are passing through Charlestown according to comments at the public meetings. Under the “surface option,” this traffic would now be on surface roads. A Boston Transportation Department analysis indicates that traffic congestion will not increase.
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 commuter traffic could increase congestion on Hanover, Commercial and N. Washington Streets in the North End.
Below is the official press release on the city’s decision:
City Announces Selection of Rutherford Avenue Surface Option Design
Kick-off to Final Design Community Process Begins in 2013
After the completion of a thorough and lengthy community process, and in cooperation with the residents of Charlestown, the City of Boston has announced its decision to select the Rutherford Avenue Surface Option Design Plan. The next step toward rebuilding Rutherford Avenue is a comprehensive community process to reach consensus on a final design. That process will commence later in 2013.
“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. “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.”
In February 2010, Charlestown residents and the City of Boston Transportation Department completed an 18 month-long community process to come to a consensus on a new design for Rutherford Avenue that would include the reconfiguration of Sullivan Square. At the conclusion of this process the Charlestown Neighborhood Council voted in favor of the plan. During the 18 month period, as well as another two and a half year review period, BTD made presentations at 10 well-attended community meetings and at another 20 briefings to community groups, elected officials and advocacy groups. The final decision to move forward with the surface option design plan was made only at the conclusion of this extensive process.
The key benefits of the new design for Rutherford Avenue include the following.
• Safe pedestrian crossings and connections between the neighborhood and MBTA Orange Line stations.
• 50 feet of green, open space to serve as a buffer between traffic and neighborhood homes.
• Parcels for new housing at Sullivan Square.
• The connection of the Mystic River waterfront to the Charles River.
• The elimination of underpasses at Austin Street and at Sullivan Square, and the introduction of conventional surface streets with signalized intersections to manage traffic flow.
• The inclusion of enough traffic lanes to continue to provide for smooth traffic flow and protect Charlestown from cut-through traffic.
• The extension of Spice Street to Rutherford Avenue to allow for Cambridge Street traffic to bypass the rotary area.
The current Rutherford Avenue concept design was funded by the City of Boston. BTD is now moving forward to secure $11.5 million in federal funding that has been earmarked for the final design and environmental review.
“BTD appreciates the input and assistance that we have received from local residents and elected officials on this project,” said BTD Commissioner Thomas J. Tinlin. “We look forward to continuing our work with them through the final design process and the completion of construction on the new Rutherford Avenue.”
For more information on the Rutherford Avenue Surface Option Design Plan, please visit www.cityofboston.gov/transportation/rutherford/.