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Flyover sought to ease proposed Suffolk Downs casino traffic

Track officials unveil roadway plans for proposed resort in East Boston

Drivers near Suffolk Downs faced a fuel truck (right) crossing the intersection at Route 1A. Traffic there has been a problem. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff) Drivers near Suffolk Downs faced a fuel truck (right) crossing the intersection at Route 1A. Traffic there has been a problem.
By Mark Arsenault
Globe Staff / June 9, 2012
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Suffolk Downs would build a two-lane flyover on the northbound side of Route 1A to relieve one of its most consistent bottlenecks, as well as add lanes, lights, and other improvements around the track to help carry the traffic created by its proposed casino resort, track officials said Friday.

The flyover would allow drivers to bypass the Boardman Street intersection, which is regularly tied up during the morning and evening rush hour. Other measures to reduce traffic could include new lanes and traffic signals, as well as an incentive program to encourage casino employees to use public transportation.

Increased traffic has been one of the top concerns raised about a proposal to expand the 77-year-old thoroughbred horse track into a casino resort, by adding hotel rooms, restaurants and amenities, and 200,000 square feet of casino games.

The track has promised to commit $40 million to improve roads and intersections around the site. The Route 1A project, which would cost $30 million to $35 million, is the centerpiece of Suffolk Downs’ traffic plan. Other improvements would be the subject of negotiations with local communities, said Chip Tuttle, the track’s chief operating officer.

Suffolk Downs expects that its $1 billion resort, when complete, would generate about 10,000 car trips on weekdays and up to 15,000 trips on a Saturday, according to R. David Black, senior project manager at Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., of Boston, the track’s traffic consultant. An estimated 55 percent of the casino’s traffic would come on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Black said.

Route 1A, which is despised by North Shore commuters, carries about 60,000 cars a day past the main entrance to Suffolk Downs, Black said.

Drivers are frequently hung up at two major chokepoints, at Boardman Street south of the track, and at Bell Circle in Revere, north of Suffolk Downs.

“Boardman Street has been a serious problem,’’ said Rodney Emery, a transportation specialist at Jacobs Engineering, who has no connection to this project. “That intersection is the bottleneck coming out of the city, out of the airport, the central artery - all of them sort of converge on that point. I haven’t seen anything done there for years. They post a policeman there at peak hours to try to move things.’’

A two-lane flyover, to be paid for by the developers, would carry cars heading north over Boardman Street, with the option to turn right into the casino soon thereafter, according to Black. “It’s something that can be built relatively quickly, and we can keep 1A open during construction,’’ he said.

Emery said a flyover could help speed traffic past Boardman Street, though drivers going past the casino and heading north may still get stuck at Bell Circle.

Suffolk Down asserts that other fixes it is willing to pay for, such as improving the intersection of Routes 1 and 16 to the west of the track, would help relieve traffic at Bell Circle. Those improvements could become part of the mitigation agreements the developers, under law, must negotiate with the host communities in which the track is located, Boston and Revere, and neighboring communities, such as Chelsea.

Not everyone will embrace the track’s traffic plans. John Ribeiro, a casino opponent, said other studies suggest that traffic problems in the area would cost much more to fix than the $40 million offered by Suffolk Downs.

Former secretary of transportation James Aloisi had already panned the idea of a flyover as “an eyesore and a band-aid that will not solve the current congestion on Route 1A from the airport to Bell Circle,’’ in a commentary published Thursday by CommonWealth Magazine. He advocated a redesign and reconstruction of Route 1A between Logan Airport and Bell Circle and much more emphasis on public transportation.

Suffolk Downs expects that patrons and employees will use public transportation to get to the casino and will propose improvements near the Suffolk Downs MBTA station, including shuttle connections to the resort and better pedestrian access. The casino would adopt programs to encourage employees to take public transportation, said Tuttle.

“We also want the site to be permeable from a pedestrian’s point of view,’’ he said.

Suffolk Downs is the leading contender for the sole Greater Boston casino license, though it still needs to win referendum votes in East Boston and Revere before it can qualify to apply for a state license.

Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com.

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