FIVE YEARS AGO, when the Massachusetts Gaming Commission awarded a license to a proposed casino on the banks of the Mystic River in Everett, traffic was one of the most pressing concerns.
The area was already heavily congested, and the conventional wisdom was that plunking a huge casino down near Sullivan Square would make matters much worse.
James McHugh, a former judge who served on the commission, said traffic was a very significant factor in the debate over the Wynn Resorts proposal in Everett. In fact, he voted to award the license to Mohegan Sun even though he thought Wynn had the better proposal because he was concerned the friction between Wynn and surrounding communities over traffic and other issues could prevent the casino from ever getting built. (see page 172 of transcript)
It almost looked like he was right. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh led the way, but Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone and Attorney General Maura Healey both grumbled about the traffic that would engulf the area. Eventually, they all came around or gave up, with Walsh signing a treaty of sorts with Steve Wynn.
And then a funny thing happened. With the politicians out of the way, traffic experts working for the state, the city of Boston, and Wynn Resorts put their heads together and came up with a traffic mitigation plan that appears to be working.
The Encore Boston Harbor casino has been open for three months, and traffic has not been a problem.
Everett Police Chief Steven Mazzie credits the road work in the area, most of it paid for by Wynn Resorts. And he says traffic has been manageable because visitors to the casino don’t tend to come during the morning and evening rush hours, so traffic in the area is spread out over the course of the day.
“The morning commute is the morning commute, it’s always been there. But it seems like it flows better,” Mazzie said. “Everyone I talk to, a lot of them say traffic has improved.”
The local Charlestown newspaper, the Patriot-Bridge, reached the same conclusion. “Few could have predicted that Encore would open and there would barely be a blip on the screen of the traffic situation in Charlestown, but it has been the case.”
Robert DeSalvio, the president of Encore Boston Harbor, is singing the same tune. “We’ve had no traffic issues since opening,” he told the Gaming Commission on September 12. “The entire traffic plan has worked.”
McHugh, who lives in Charlestown, says he has to agree with the assessment that traffic is not a problem in and around Sullivan Square and may even be better than it was before the casino arrived. Still, McHugh doesn’t think the no vote he cast or the traffic concerns he raised five years ago were a mistake. Once the political infighting ended, he said, the search for solutions began.
“The focus on the traffic problem galvanized people,” he said. “Government works.”