By Seth Daniel
As ideas and “preferred suggestions” go, Everett struck gold in the first iteration of the Lower Mystic Regional Working Group’s unveiling of ideas about how to transform transportation in the region that includes Everett, Somerville and Charlestown – a region mired on traffic and ignored by transportation planners for decades.
“It really is the intersection of Boston, Everett and Somerville and this has been a good example of those three communities really coming together to promote a major change,” said Tim Reardon of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).
Monday night’s meeting drew about 75 people from the three communities and unveiled the results of about a year of planning, community meetings and stakeholder meetings between the three communities and a whole host of state and municipal entities – not to mention private companies like Wynn Boston Harbor and Federal Development (Assembly Row). The meeting took place at the new Partners Health Care building in Assembly Row, and premiered some initial ideas about long-term changes to the region to help traffic and congestion – ideas that focus mostly on getting people out of cars and directing them away from the existing bottlenecks.
Those suggestions were exciting for Everett, and at least one resident was encouraged.
“I believe Everett’s time has come,” said Zach Strauss. “I believe our neighbors here need to welcome us and Everett needs to show up. This is Everett’s time, but we need to work with our neighbors in Charlestown and Somerville and nail down the exciting things for us like the Orange Line extension. In 50 years, this will be our legacy…I think the casino can be a blessing development that allows us to finally be what we want to be.”
For Everett, a good deal of the improvements came in the realm of public transportation – including proposed new bus rapid transit lines (Silver Line) and an exciting – though maybe not financially feasible – new spur of the Orange Line to Everett.
The exciting Orange Line news was the first time that it had been discussed publicly, and the Lower Mystic planners said that the new spur would break off at the Mystic River and run through Everett to Revere’s Copeland Circle – where an extensive Park and Ride facility would exist for commuters. That would simultaneously get more Everett people on public transit and get more northern commuters off the streets of Everett and Charlestown.
The spur would go over the Mystic River and then follow the commuter rail right of way near Lower Broadway and over to Route 16. From there, it would dive into a tunnel that would take the spur through Everett to Copeland Circle. In Everett, that expansion would include five new stations in the tunnel section.
“It is a very expensive option,” said Mark Abbott of the Central Transportation Planning staff. “There are new tunnels and the cost of five new stations, plus we will need a new maintenance facility. There are also impacts on property as well.”
Another major score for Everett in the suggestions are expansions of the Silver Line bus rapid transit (BRT) – which is currently being expanded from Logan Airport to the Chelsea Market Basket mall area.
One of those expansions would be connecting a new Silver Line to the Market Basket area that would proceed to Broadway and then to Sullivan Square. From there it would go to the Inner Beltway and finish up at Kendall Square – a place that is next to impossible to get to from Everett right now, but an area ripe with job opportunities.
That is piggybacked with another Silver Line route that would start at Glendale Square and travel down the existing bus-only lane on Broadway, connecting with Lower Broadway, Rutherford Avenue in Charlestown and ending at North Station.
“That’s a one-seat ride where they would have to utilize multiple buses today,” said Abbott.
A final piece of that suggestion was a series of new bus routes, including a bus that would travel from the Commercial Triangle area (Paris Street) in Everett and down Lower Broadway to North Station.
Other suggestions for Everett include connecting the Northern Strand Community Path for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as making the Lower Broadway experience easier for pedestrians.
On the automobile end of things, a proposed flyover exit ramp from I-93 north would split off from the Charlestown Cambridge Street exit. That new split off would direct traffic over Sullivan Square and have it come out on Lower Broadway just before the Alford Street Bridge – giving those on I-93 a direct spillway into Everett without having to navigate Sullivan Square.
However, Reardon said a lot of the suggestions have little to do with building more highways and roads, but rather steering people away from using their cars. That’s because with every computer modeling the group did, they couldn’t eliminate congestion.
“In every model when we tried to relieve congestion, traffic comes in and fills up what we’ve relieved,” said Reardon. “It backfills. It’s very, very difficult to build our way out of the congestion. That’s why we’re focusing on what the other alternatives are…No matter what we tried to relieve the congestion, we had a hard time making headway. We wanted to figure out how to get people out of their cars instead.”
The Lower Mystic Regional Working Group was created when the Wynn Boston Harbor development got its environmental approvals. In order to improve traffic regionally, regulators asked the state Department of Transportation to convene a working group to make suggestions about how to improve the corridor long term – a corridor that includes Everett, Somerville and Charlestown, and also spreads out in a study area to include Revere, Chelsea, Medford and Arlington.
The suggestions at Monday’s meeting were the culmination of nearly two years of work and meetings, with the public portion of the planning beginning last fall.
Final recommendations will come later this year after more public input, and that will be followed with an exercise to identify funding strategies for the many costly options that are proposed.