Pollack gives green light for Wynn

Takes issues with claims of Healey, Boston

(A clarification has been added to this story in the next-to-last paragraph,)

DISAGREEING WITH ATTORNEY GENERAL MAURA HEALEY and officials from abutting communities, Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said Wynn Resorts has adequately addressed short-term transportation issues associated with its proposed casino in Everett.

In a letter to her Baker administration colleague, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton, Pollack said no further environmental review of transportation issues associated with the $1.7 billion casino/hotel project is needed. She proposed the creation of a regional working group to address long-term traffic problems with Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square in Boston.

Beaton is scheduled to rule this Friday on whether Wynn should receive a key environmental permit needed to move ahead with the project. The Pollack letter is the first hint of the Baker administration’s stance on the casino/hotel initiative, which is opposed to varying degrees by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, and Attorney General Maura Healey. All of the officials have raised concerns about the casino project’s traffic impact. Boston is also suing the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in state court in a bid to overturn the award of Wynn’s casino license.

Pollack’s letter and an accompanying memo from one of her Department of Transportation aides said Wynn Resorts has developed a mitigation plan that addresses the project’s traffic impacts.  The officials hailed Wynn’s plan to provide a $380,900 annual subsidy for the Orange Line ($7.4 million over 15 years), minimized the improper transfer of abutting land at the casino site by the MBTA to Wynn, and said the Las Vegas company’s short-term, or interim, traffic mitigation plans are satisfactory.

“MassDOT shares some of the city of Boston’s concerns regarding the effectiveness of the interim mitigation plan to address the existing deficiencies at Sullivan Square due to its proximity to the I-93 southbound ramp,” the Department of Transportation memo said. “However, we believe with the city of Boston’s cooperation, the willingness of [Wynn] to acquire right-of-way as appropriate, and discussions and inputs from technical staff involved in the permitting process, this plan can be refined and finalized to address the remaining concerns.”

The DOT memo acknowledges questions remain about long-term plans for Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square. The city of Boston wants to reconfigure the area to become a network of neighborhood and pedestrian-friendly streets that the municipality says is incompatible with a casino drawing some 20,000 vehicles daily to the area. Beaton, in rejecting Wynn’s last bid for an environmental permit, urged Wynn, state, and city officials to develop a long-term planning process for the area. Pollack convened a meeting on June 1 that Boston officials boycotted. Boston officials did attend a second meeting on Aug. 13.

“The August 13 meeting, while it did not resolve the outstanding issues, was productive and allowed MassDOT to ensure that we understand all of the parties’ concerns with respect to both interim and long-term mitigation,” the memo said. “Having held these two meetings, MassDOT believes we have fulfilled the requirement [of Beaton] to initiate a planning process to address the transportation concerns at Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue.”

The DOT memo said the city’s proposed redesign of Sullivan Square is not finished yet and no construction could begin until at least 2020, after the opening of the Wynn casino. Once a final design for the city’s redesign is developed and state and federal environmental reviews are begun, the memo suggests a regional working group be assembled to address transportation issues.

The memo suggests Beaton could acknowledge the need for a regional process in his decision on the environmental permit and tie the release of $25 million in Wynn funding to the development of a long-term mitigation plan.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Neither Pollack’s letter nor the DOT memo mention Healey by name, but the two documents reject calls she has made for the use of a regional traffic model to assess the impact of the Wynn Resorts casino. [CLARIFICATION: Secretary Pollack later supplied to CommonWealth a letter she sent directly to Healey making the points outlined in the DOT memo.] The memo said the model is typically used when the Department of Transportation proposes a project that changes the regional travel network. The memo said “many commenters” have mistakenly suggested a regional traffic model should be used when a project generates a significant number of trips. Even if that were the case, the memo said, the Wynn project, with 20,000 vehicle trips a day, would probably not qualify.

The DOT memo said the projected traffic impacts of the Wynn casino are not larger than many other projects that have sought state environmental permits without the use of a regional travel demand model. The memo cited Patriot Place in Foxborough and Westwood Station in Westwood as examples of projects that had traffic impacts exceeding 20,000 vehicles per day where a regional travel demand model was not used.