Traffic Comm. Approves First Set of Proposals for Traffic Changes at Suffolk Downs

The Revere Traffic Commission held a public hearing last Thursday to discuss, and vote upon, a number of changes affecting city streets being proposed by HYM Development Group, the developer of Suffolk Downs.

Chairperson Paul Argenzio, who is the Supt. of the Revere DPW, and fellow commissioners Fire Chief Chris Bright, Chief City Planner Frank Stringi, and City Engineer Nicholas Rystrom, were in attendance.

Michael Barowsky, a senior vice-president at HYM, came before the commission to discuss HYM’s proposed plans for changes to adjacent roadways in Beachmont and beyond in order to accommodate the expected increase in traffic when the massive office/residential/retail complex is fully built-out.

“We’re here today to talk about improvements at several intersections that have been contemplated over the years from Donnelly Square up through Harris St.,” said Barowsky. “These proposed improvements come after a very long study process with the city and state agencies, including MEFA, MassDOT, the MBTA, and the City of Boston.”

Ian McKinnon from the traffic consultant firm Howard Stein Hudson, which was hired by HYM to design the multitude of changes to the various roadways (only some of which were taken up Thursday night), then made a full presentation to the commission of the specifics of the three HYM proposals that were on the agenda.

The three matters that required votes from the commission were as follows: The reconfiguration of the intersection of Crescent Ave. and Bennington St;  the creation of lengthened, bus stop cut-outs, to be shifted to the other side of Washburn Ave., for the MBTA buses that lay over on Winthrop Ave. at the Beachmont T station; and the installation of a new set of traffic lights on Winthrop Ave. at the new Suffolk Downs Boulevard, which will exit Suffolk Downs across from the MBTA parking lot.

A fourth item, a proposal to make Harris St. (which runs from Winthrop Ave. at the Parkway up to the playing fields behind Revere High at American Legion Highway) into a one-way street (in the direction of American Legion Highway) was not taken up because of a lack of notice to residents. That discussion and vote will take place at a future public hearing.

Two of the matters — the new cut-outs for bus stops at the Beachmont T station and the traffic light on Winthrop Ave. at the new Suffolk Downs Blvd. — drew little discussion.

The lone question came from Ralph DeCicco, the chair of the Revere Disabilities Commission, who asked whether APS signalizations (an Accessible Pedestrian Signal is a pedestrian push button that communicates when to cross the street in a non-visual manner, such as audible tones, speech messages, and vibrating surfaces) will be included at all of the new pedestrian crossings.

“Every signalization will have APS push buttons,” said McKinnon.

However, the redesign of the Crescent Ave./Bennington St. intersection drew criticism from Ward 1 City Council member Joanne McKenna and a number of residents.

“The geometry changes of the intersection of Crescent Ave. and Bennington St. will be a much-needed safety improvement to regularize traffic flow just south of Donnelly Sq.,” explained McKinnon at the outset of his presentation. “This formalizes Crescent Ave. into a 90-degree intersection that will be longer in length.”

However, said McKenna, “The people who live there won’t be able to get out” because of the traffic congestion emanating from the nearby Beachmont School (which is located one street over on Everard St.). McKenna also noted the confusion among residents given the various proposals from HYM, the city, and MassDOT pertaining to the approach to Donnelly Square on Bennington St. from East Boston.

“You guys, the city, MassDOT, and HYM, all have to talk with each other to have a solid plan that coordinates,” said McKenna.

Tom Skwierawski, the city’s Chief of Planning and Community Development, stepped up to the podium to address that issue, stating that his department has been coordinating with the City of Boston, HYM, and MassDOT.

“I want to make sure the residents know how this will lead to a bigger benefit for the entire community,” said Skwiewarski, who also noted that a public meeting to address all of the various issues is scheduled for May 16.

McKenna concluded her remarks by thanking  HYM “for getting the T onboard for the bus stop improvements.”

A number of residents expressed the same reservation about the potential for traffic jams at the Crescent/Bennington intersection that will cause back-ups on Crescent Ave.

“There is no traffic improvement,” said Crescent Ave. resident Nicole Deveau. “There is no way to get out of the street (Crescent Ave. is one-way in the direction of Bennington St.). You are not improving, but making it worse, and backing it up on Crescent Ave.”

Kim Silva of Endicott Ave. agreed, saying, “The people dropping off their kids at the school create a bad problem at rush hour.”

Prior to a vote, Stringi was the only commissioner to address the issue.

“The biggest concern from the beginning has been the Crescent Ave. connection to Bennington St.,” Stringi said. “We knew early on that this was a problem area traffic-wise and pedestrian safety-wise. So we asked HYM to take a look at this and they came up with a plan that is the safest for traffic and pedestrians. Every proposed improvement has met our expectations “

However, Stringi also agreed with the residents that HYM should consider the installation of a traffic light at the intersection “for even more safety.”

He made a motion to approve all three of HYM’s proposals, but on the condition that HYM conduct a study regarding the effects of a traffic light at the Crescent/Bennington intersection. The commission unanimously approved the motion with that condition.

Prior to the vote, the commission also heard of changes in other places that will be implemented by HYM in conjunction with the construction of the Suffolk site. 

McKinnon presented these plans to the commission for informational purposes only, inasmuch as they pertain to state highways over which the local commission has no jurisdiction.

Among the proposals are:

— A new traffic signal on the Revere Beach Parkway in front of the public safety building. The Fire Dept. will be able to control the light from a button in the station. “This will allow for a faster exit from the facility by fire trucks that will decrease response time,” said McKinnon, who also noted that there will be sidewalk improvements.

“The Fire Department is looking forward to these improvements that will make it safer to exit the fire station,” noted Fire Chief Bright.

Ward 2 City Council member Ira Novoselsky expressed one reservation with the plan, which calls for a widening of the crosswalk at Campbell Ave., which is located directly across the Parkway from the fire station and which is one-way in the direction of the Parkway.

“I think we should reduce the length of the crosswalk to force the cars to slow down and cut out the angles for the turn, so motorists won’t go up Campbell the wrong way,” Novoselsky suggested.

— HYM will be installing a new pedestrian signal at Harris St. and Route 60 (the American Legion Highway) to provide a safe crossing for Revere High students who are walking to the Shirley Ave. neighborhood. McKinnon said there will be new sidewalks, pavement markings, and a break in the fence along the median strip where students will cross.

— HYM will be redesigning the merger of Railroad St. and Lee Burbank Highway (Route 1A) southbound in order to make for a much-safer entry onto the highway by motorists coming off Railroad St. “This presently is an unsafe merge that does not meet any of today’s standards,” said McKinnon. “The new design will give merging motorists an opportunity to pick up speed and merge safely.”

— McKinnon also highlighted the proposed bike paths along Bennington St. and Winthrop Ave. that will connect to the amenities of Suffolk Downs, as well as to the Mary Ellen Walsh Greenway into East Boston. There also will be a promenade along Winthrop Ave. that will feature new lighting and shade trees.

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