America as We Know It Is Over

America as We Know It Is Over

It is difficult to understate the impact upon the future of our country of the Republican tax bill proposals that have been passed by the House and Senate and await a reconciliation between the two versions for a final vote by both.

The most complex piece of tax legislation to be enacted in more than 30 years was devised and voted upon with little or no debate and in the middle of the night (after midnight, actually) in the Senate, with cross-outs and extended, hand-written notes in the margins such that no Senator really knows what he or she voted upon.

However, what is clear is that the tax bill will raise taxes on the middle class — some substantially so (especially here in Massachusetts) — and all but destroy the Affordable Care Act, while giving huge benefits to the ultra-rich in countless ways.

One of the most outrageous giveaways to the ultra-rich is that they can deduct the cost of maintenance of their private jets. Wouldn’t we all like to do that for our cars, the preferred mode of transportation for the rest of us?

In addition, this tax giveaway by the supposedly deficit-hawk, fiscally-conservative Republicans will be increasing the deficit by at least $1 trillion over the next 10 years, and most likely more than that.

All in all, this represents America’s move toward a real-life Hunger Games, in which most Americans barely will be able to scrape by with little or no prospect for economic mobility.

The American Century has been turned on its head — and we never will be the same again.

Read More

City Councilor-at-Large Roy Avellaneda Announces Re-Election Bid

City Councilor-at-Large Roy Avellaneda Announces Re-Election Bid

Current Chelsea City Councilor at Large Roy Avellaneda has announced he will seek re-election to the City Council in the November 7th election.

Said Avellaneda, “It would be my privilege to continue to represent the people of Chelsea as Councilor at Large. I’ve never stopped fighting for Chelsea residents and stakeholders. But after a brief hiatus, two years ago, I decided to run again, and you gave me the honor of putting me back on the City Council.”

Roy is a lifelong Chelsea resident. His family moved here from Argentina in the 1970s and opened Tito’s Bakery on Broadway. He attended St Rose, Dom Savio High School, and Babson College.

“I was brought up in Chelsea, and I’ve lived here all of my life.  So I not only understand its history, but also keenly aware of its challenges, and most pressing needs,” he said.

He has served Chelsea as a member of the Planning Board, and on the City Council for a total of 12 years, the first time beginning in 1998.  He returned to the Council 2 years ago, and served on the Licensing Board in between.

Along the way, Roy has also worked as Legislative Assistant to State Senator Jarrett Barrios, and worked in the MA Department of Transportation during the administration of former Governor Deval Patrick.

“Twenty years in both local and state government, have given me a unique, and valuable experience. I know how the wheels of government turn, often slowly and painfully. So you have to get in there, roll up your sleeves, and keep pushing it along. You have to have patience, but always maintain a sense of urgency.”

Roy is also a successful real estate broker, and the top producing agent with Weichert, Realtors-Metropolitan Boston Real Estate.  Roy also currently also owns and operates his own cafe, Pan y Cafe in Cary Square, which he opened about a year ago.

“From a very early age,” he said, “my parents taught me the importance of public service — of being involved in one’s community.  But their story and their example also includes the business they founded.  I’ve always been involved in this community, but at the same time, whether it’s the bakery, a cafe, being a real estate broker, I’ve also been in my own business here in different ways for a long time now.  So I have the perspective, not only of someone who has worked in government, but also of a small business person. And in that sense, I’m doubling down on Chelsea because I believe in our bright future, and I always have. I’m doing everything I can to help bring it about and to make the lives of everyone in this community better. But I’ve also made my life here, and I think it’s important to be personally invested in your community, and have a stake in that future.”

Since re-joining the City Council in 2016, Roy has focused on a number issues confronting Chelsea residents and business owners, including tax relief, jobs and economic development, affordable housing, and environmental protection.

“Two years ago,” he said, “I made a commitment to do everything I could to make sure our homeowners and local businesses were not overburdened, to address the affordable housing crisis, to lobby for smart development that reduced negative impacts while increasing green space and support our youth. Today, I can point to achievements that improved those issues facing Chelsea.”

Specifically Roy sponsored, and along with with City Manager Tom Ambrosino, successfully lobbied for state legislative passage of the Home Rule Petition to Increase the Homeowner Residential Exemption from 20% to 35%, saving homeowners hundreds of dollars per year.

He also worked hard to get legislation passed to help small businesses with equipment or inventory of less than $10,000 in value pay less in taxes, resulting in an increase in investment and jobs by local Chelsea merchants.

Roy co-sponsored the Community Preservation Act ballot initiative and campaigned for its approval by voters. Chelsea approved it overwhelmingly (70%) creating a funding mechanism for affordable housing, green space and historic preservation.

Roy also supported and lobbied for the adoption of two key affordable housing measures.  The first, The Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, now requires 15% of housing built by developers to be affordable.  The second, The Condo Conversion Ordinance, limits multi-family owners from evicting tenants without just cause pursuant to condominium conversion.

Roy introduced and successfully lobbied for the passage Anti-Wage Theft Ordinance which now protects workers in Chelsea from unscrupulous employers who attempt to withhold rightfully earned wages and overtime.

Roy’s advocacy was also instrumental in obtaining more funding for Chelsea’s Summer Jobs Employment program, which provides summer jobs and the opportunity for for Chelsea teens to gain work experience and life skills.

“I am particularly proud to have the endorsements of the Greater Boston Labor Council, SEIU 888, SEIU 32BJ, Ironworkers Local 7 and New England Region of Carpenters,” he said, “because I have worked and fought hard for working people of all ages in Chelsea.”

“Two years ago, he said, “I asked Chelsea voters then to give me the opportunity to be their voice and to work for them.  They did, and for that, I’m very grateful. We’ve accomplished a lot since.  But, we have so much more work to do in Chelsea. We need improved access to affordable transportation.  We need a permanent bike sharing program. We need to keep pressure on MassPort to mitigate Logan Airport’s impact on our community. We need more balanced and smart new development that doesn’t negatively impact our quality of life. We need to focus on and properly mitigate the impact of the Wynn Casino. We have to increase economic opportunities for working families so they can afford to take care of themselves and their children and not be priced out of Chelsea.  There’s so much to do. So I am once again asking for your vote on Nov 7th to continue to be your Councilor At Large. Please support me on Tuesday, November 7th. Thank you and God bless.”

Read More

Chelsea Artist is Highlighted in New Mural on the Charles River Esplanade

Chelsea Artist is Highlighted in New Mural on the Charles River Esplanade

By Beth Treffeisen

Artist Silvia Lopez stands in front of part of her mural under the Bowker Overpass on the Charles River Esplanade.

Artist Silvia Lopez stands in front of part of her mural under the Bowker Overpass on the Charles River Esplanade.

What was once a dark, graffiti-ridden, sore patch along the beautiful Esplanade is in the midst of being rejuvenated through a colorful, dynamic mural that is currently in the works.

The brightly colored mural will reflect the daily cacophony of fast paced bicyclists, skaters, joggers, boat traffic, and the rhythm of vehicles that pass daily along the Charles River Esplanade.

The mural titled, “Patterned Behavior,” by Boston artist Silvia Lopez Chavez is the Esplanade’s newest contemporary artwork and is expected to take about three weeks to complete. It is expected to be done by mid-September if not earlier depending on weather. The mural will remain up for one year and has a chance to be renewed to remain for the second year.

In 2013, Silvia received a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant for her ‘Fresh Air: Portraits’ of Chelsea project; which explored the environmental and political aspects within air quality issues in Chelsea, MA and was also a finalist for the Brother Thomas Fellowship Award.

“It’s been very cool,” said Chavez taking a break from sketching the mural along the Esplanade, “We have had a lot of good, positive responses from people using the space. People who use it daily are just screaming “thank you!”

The Esplanade Association, an independent non-profit that works to revitalize and enhance the state park, commissioned the non-profit Now + There to curate and produce a mural for the Esplanade in the area located west of the Massachusetts Avenue, bridge.

The project is privately funded through money raised by the Esplanade Association.

Jessica Crimmins, the interim executive director of the Esplanade Association said that they have been interested in doing a public art project for quite a while.

“There are a lot of reasons why people come to the Esplanade – running, biking, walking or touring, and now, they have another reason to come into the park, for culture and art,” said Crimmins.

The association created an “Arts in the Park” fund to back this project and hopefully other future works to correspond with their other programs such as “Healthy, Fit & Fun.”

Currently, the space serves as a blank canvas for graffiti artists, and Crimmins said she hopes the mural will deter people from continuing that in the area. Depending on how it goes, Crimmins said, the Esplanade Association will look into extending the murals stay.

Over 100,000 commuters on Storrow Drive and thousands of bicyclists,  hundreds of boaters and rowers, as well as many people on the Cambridge side of the river, will be able to see this mural everyday.

The concept for “Patterned Behavior” takes inspiration from the everyday activity and how humans utilize the space. When Chavez first began doing sketches and research in the area, she noticed that people tended to follow the same paths.

“Designing this piece, it was clear it wasn’t going to be faces or words, which can be present in my work, but more about the reflection of the space and movement and how to convey that with a ton of color – which is so me,” said Chavez.

She continued, “The color to me in an abstract way represents the variety of us here in the city, how we are from so many places. Boston has people from everywhere. That is my way of reflecting that. The beautiful colors are representative of the beautiful people here.”

For example, Chavez pointed to two yellow circles near the side of Storrow Drive and said in an abstract way that represents the cars going down. Other patterns such as arrows and lines represent the flow coming in from either side, intersecting and interacting with each other.

“It is a different experience depending on what direction you are coming from overall,” said Chavez.

This mural is the second commission by Now + There’s Year of the Woman programming and is the first initiative in the Esplanade Association’s newly expanded arts program.

Chavez said that she wanted to follow the Year of the Woman and hired an all-female mural crew. Chavez said that in the world of street art, graffiti art or murals, it is a very male-dominated community– kind of like a boys club of sorts.

She hopes to bring attention to female artists who continue to not get opportunities to build their portfolio.

“It’s something that’s a catch-22 – you have to think in reverse,” said Chavez. “I know a lot of strong artists that are female but not given the opportunity to do these projects…I hope this project opens more doors not just for me but for these amazing strong woman who are helping me.”

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), community organizations and neighbors approved this project.

The area the mural is on is very tricky to get permits for. The pillars and the wall belong to MassDOT, DCR owns the land and is charge of taking care of the park, and the main wall facing the river is a historic landmark, needing permission from the Boston Landmarks Commission.

“We had to go into getting all of the permitting, and that process was long,” said Chavez. “I was so grateful to have Now + there and the Esplanade Association to do that along the way.”

Chavez said it was difficult as an individual artist to go through this process and for most artists they don’t have the time or the capacity to do all of the work.

In addition, she had to get insurance that went into the millions of dollars to cover her assistants, herself and every object that she has at the site.

“Now, we’re here and that makes me very happy and it makes people very happy, which we have been seeing again and again which is fantastic,” said Chavez.

Kate Gilbert the executive director of Now + There, hopes that this mural will help reclaim the area that has slowly been taken over by cars.

“The art is sort of supporting the pleasant walk through here, but it is about cars versus people and what that is going to mean in the future,” said Gilbert. “[The mural] is going to make it more pleasant and useable space.”

In terms of the short stay the mural will have, Gilbert said she believes that it is important to keep changing the face of public art in Boston.

“There are some icons that are always going to stay, like the CITGO sign, but I always use the analogy you really don’t wear the same clothes that you wore 10 years ago,” said Gilbert. “I think temporary art reflects the changes that are happening now…there is a moment in time we are reflecting in artwork and hopefully in five years there will be something new.”

Read More

MassDOT Highway Administrator Thomas J Tinlin Resigning

MassDOT Highway Administrator Thomas J Tinlin Resigning

 Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack announced today that Highway Administrator Thomas J. Tinlin has decided to resign from MassDOT.

“From grueling snowstorms to toll demolitions, Tom Tinlin was there to see our highway projects through on time and on budget and he always brought his sense of humor and kindness to the job,” said Governor Charlie Baker.  “He worked tirelessly to support the Commonwealth’s commuters to ensure everyone got to their destinations quickly and safely in every corner of the state.  On behalf of the entire Administration, I thank him for his service and wish him the best of luck toward future endeavors.”

Jonathan Gulliver will continue in the role of Acting Highway Administrator through September.  Gulliver was named Acting Administrator in May after it was announced that Mr. Tinlin would take time off to address a medical issue.  Prior to being named Acting Administrator, Gulliver had served as Director of Highway Division District 3.

Tinlin was scheduled to return to his work as Highway Administrator this week after being off the job since May 1. In announcing his resignation today, he said, “I am grateful for the excellent care I received after suffering from a subarachnoid brain aneurysm rupture and would like to publicly thank Dr. Ajith Thomas and all of the doctors and nurses at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for returning me to 100 percent so I can start the next chapter of my life as a healthy husband and father.”

Tinlin added, “While I am excited about what lies ahead, this has been a difficult decision. I have truly loved serving the people of the Commonwealth, and the City of Boston, and have taken pride in my public service roles for decades. And I am grateful for all the mentors I have had along the way.”

Tinlin joined MassDOT in January 2014 as its Chief of Operations and Maintenance and in March 2015 was promoted to Highway Administrator.

“Tom has led the Highway Division with integrity and pride and this state’s transportation system is better because of his management,” said Secretary Pollack.  “Tom’s strong work ethic, organizational skills, and collaborative style motivated employees, engaged the public and created partnerships benefitting everyone in the Commonwealth.  Tom never wavered in making decisions in the best interest of public safety and leaves MassDOT with a reputation he is deserving of, as a responsive and dedicated public servant.”

Since Mr. Tinlin joined MassDOT, new initiatives were launched by the Highway Division, including Complete Streets which provides money to communities for street infrastructure work, and the Municipal Small Bridge Program, a several year $50 million program to aid towns and cities in replacing or renovating small municipally-owned bridges.  Under his leadership, in October 2016, the state transitioned from manual to all-electronic toll collections, a project which involved, in part, having specific design, management and road reconstruction plans in 23 work zones from the New York border to Boston. In addition, Mr. Tinlin oversaw the introduction by MassDOT of technology to modernize highway operations and provide new tools to the public to use for travel, including “real-time” travel to destination highway signs and the 511 system. In managing the Highway Division staff of more than 2,500, Mr. Tinlin embraced a multi-modal approach to roadway design and led the implementation of transportation plans for countless planned and unplanned events for the Commonwealth.

Tinlin has spent nearly three decades in public service, working first for the City of Boston in a variety of roles and leaving the Menino Administration as Boston Transportation Commissioner.  Tinlin holds a Master of Public Administration from Suffolk University and is active in many Boston organizations, participating in particular in many non-profit causes, many in the neighborhood of South Boston where he has grown up and raised his family.

Read More

Small Relief:New Chelsea Street Bridge Driver Notification System Debuts

Small Relief:New Chelsea Street Bridge Driver Notification System Debuts

The Chelsea Street Bridge has become the bane of existence for more than a few residents that need to cross between Eastie and Chelsea – as when it goes up, one can only settle in and wait it out.

One of the warning signs tat will warn drivers that the bridge is going up.

One of the warning signs tat will warn drivers that the bridge is going up.

Residents, businesses, City Manager Tom Ambrosino and even Massport have all complained about the Bridge raising during heavy traffic times like the morning rush hour, or at the shift changes in Logan Airport – preventing employees from getting from the Chelsea parking garage to the airport. Now, at the least, drivers will have advanced notice of the inconvenience through new warning signs that use real-time technology to inform drivers that the Bridge is going up.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has announced it has activated a new notification system that uses real-time technology to trigger messaging on numerous road signs to inform drivers of the raising and lowering of the Chelsea Street Bridge which carries traffic between East Boston and Chelsea.

“Through our collaborative efforts with local municipal officials and members of the public, we have developed an early warning system that alerts drivers in real-time when the Chelsea Street bridge is being raised or lowered,” said Acting Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver. “This notification system is an important resource for members of the public and helps ensure drivers are able to make informed decisions and take the most appropriate routes when traveling to the places they need to get to throughout these local communities.”

Using Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) technology, an opening of the Chelsea Street Bridge will now activate eight roadway signs in the area that will read “Chelsea Street Bridge Closed Ahead.”  These eight signs are strategically located at points throughout Chelsea, East Boston and Revere in order to provide drivers with an appropriate amount of time to make informed decisions and seek alternate routes if necessary.

“The Chelsea Street Bridge is an important and heavily used link between the East Boston neighborhood and the City of Chelsea,” said Boston Transportation Department Commissioner Gina N. Fiandaca. “By notifying drivers when the bridge will be closed to traffic, this innovative new system will encourage drivers to seek alternate routes.  As a result, the frequency of motor vehicles backing up on local streets while waiting for the bridge to re-open is expected to be reduced, and air quality will improve due to the decrease in emissions from idling vehicles.”

“The City of Chelsea is very grateful to MassDOT for listening and responding to the City’s concerns about the negative impact upon local traffic, and Chelsea residents, whenever the Chelsea Bridge is closed,” said Chelsea City Manager Thomas G. Ambrosino. “We are hopeful that this new early warning system will help to minimize gridlock and aggravation. It will certainly give motorists the opportunity to avoid roadways heading toward the bridge before they become clogged with traffic and the opportunity for detour is foreclosed.”

The total cost for developing and installing the new notification system for the Chelsea Street Bridge was approximately $234,000. The bridge handles a daily volume of approximately 37,000 vehicles and is raised an average of five times per day to allow for the passage of incoming vessels.

The Chelsea Street Bridge was constructed in 2012 and carries traffic on Chelsea Street over the Chelsea Creek. The bridge is approximately 450 feet in length and when raised has a vertical clearance of approximately 175 feet.

Read More

Traffic Counters Up

Several City video traffic counting machines have been spotted in the area of East Berkeley Street and Harrison Avenue and Washington Street.

The area has been the target of major complaints about traffic from Old Dover Neighborhood Association, and it is also the site for a pilot program to bring in a completely redesigned streetscape that is to be bid out this month by the Boston Transportation Department.

Nevertheless, the counters certainly signal the beginnings of a traffic study for the area, something that’s been requested for a long time.

Read More

Somerville Drops All Casino Appeals:Way Cleared for Casino Opening

By Seth Daniel

The Wynn Boston Harbor casino has a clear path to opening for the first time since announcing three years ago that it intended to compete for the Greater Boston license at its Everett site.

The City of Somerville announced on Monday afternoon that it would discontinue all appeals of the casino – saying that it had resolved a number of issues that it had with the casino during the Chapter 91 license appeal and would not choose to take the matter to Superior Court.

“The City of Somerville successfully resolved a number of our community’s core concerns regarding the Wynn casino project through our recent appeal of the casino’s Ch. 91 license,” wrote Mayor Joe Curtatone in a statement. “For this reason, we will not pursue further appeal of the license via the courts. I want to be clear; our appeal was never about stopping the casino, but rather about our civic duty to protect the health, safety, and quality of life of our residents. While we did not get everything we asked for, the appeal did yield significant and meaningful results for our residents, so we feel the process worked.”

The news was greeted happily from China by Wynn Boston Harbor President Bob DeSalvio, who received the news while helping to celebrate the opening of the Wynn Palace in Macau.

“With all legal challenges behind us, we can now focus entirely on making Wynn Boston Harbor one of the most powerful job generators and economic catalysts to ever benefit the Commonwealth,” DeSalvio said. “We are pleased to be joined with all our neighboring communities in making this a historic development for all.”

Curtatone said he was particularly pleased with ensuring that the Wynn ferry will be required to run for 50 years, the entirety of the Chapter 91 license.

“By the Wynn organization’s estimates, the ferry should reduce casino road traffic by an estimated six percent, and in one of the most congested areas of the country, every bit counts,” said Curtatone.

He also cited the decrease in the term of the Chapter 91 license, which was originally 85 years. After the appeal was announced, Wynn and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) worked together to compromise on a plan to knock the license term down to 50 years.

“This means current residents will have greater community benefits now, and the next generation will have an opportunity to reassess benefits within a more reasonable time period,” he added.

Curtatone also indicated he was ready to be a regional partner. He also said he has signed on to an agreement to that effect.

“Together with Wynn, the state, and other regional partners, we will continue to seek progress on traffic mitigation and mobility concerns and opportunities as they relate to the casino,” he said. “To that end, I would like to announce that the City of Somerville and Wynn MA, LLC, have entered into an agreement that commits both parties to jointly working to address these needs.”

He said he would like that group to continue working specifically on Regional Planning, Multi-Modal Mobility and Transportation Funding, Bus Transit Improvements and Bus Rapid Transit, Air Quality and Public Health, and Environmental Sustainability.

Read More

MassDot Moves Forward On All Electronic Tolling for Tobin, Tunnels, Turnpike

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Board acted Monday to move ahead with plans to completely demolish Interstate 90 toll plazas by the end of 2017 as a milestone in the state’s progress toward All Electronic Tolling (AET) along Interstate 90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike), the Tobin Bridge, and Boston tunnels.

For Chelsea purposes, State Rep. Dan Ryan said there would be no alteration or changes to the Bridge Discount Program offered to Chelsea residents, whereby they pay $.30 instead of $3 for being a host community.

At Monday’s Board meeting, MassDOT announced that AET will “go live” on October 28.

A series of seven public hearings has been scheduled for public input, with the only meetings in the Boston area being at North Shore Community College in Lynn on Sept. 7 at 6:30 p.m., and another at the Jackson Mann School in Allston on Sept. 14 at 6:30 p.m.

The Board approved toll demolition contracts, reviewed data security and retention proposals and instructed MassDOT to proceed with public hearings on proposed toll rates designed to be revenue neutral and minimize changes in toll charges for current commuters.

“The AET system will improve driver convenience and safety and reduce greenhouse gas-causing vehicle emissions,” said MassDOT Highway Administrator Thomas J. Tinlin. “When toll booths have been removed, AET will allow drivers to maintain regular highway speed as they pass under AET gantries, eliminating the need for drivers to sharply reduce speed and idle in toll booth lines.”

The Board-approved contracts provide that tolls booths will begin to be demolished as soon as AET goes live and all work to remove toll plazas and reconstruct roadways is to be completed by the end of 2017.

While the decision on gantry locations was based on a 2012 study and the decision to implement AET was made in 2014, MassDOT officials have been working with the predetermined gantry locations to make sure rates at the new gantries remain “revenue neutral,” meaning that total revenue generated both on the Western Turnpike (I-90 from the New York border to Weston) and the Metropolitan Highway System will be approximately the same as with current tolls.

Proposed rates will extend discounts for users of Commonwealth of Massachusetts-issued E-ZPass transponders, currently available only at the Weston and Allston/Brighton tolls, to every gantry location including the Tobin Bridge and airport tunnels. The rates being proposed for public review provide that the cost of driving from one end of I-90 to the other for E-ZPassMA users will drop from the current rate of $6.60 to $6.15.

“In developing proposed AET rates and policies, we worked with the gantries’ predetermined locations and considered a series of plans and models to develop a revenue neutral toll strategy in an effort to keep changes in the cost of specific commuting trips modest, within five or ten cents of current rates,” said Massachusetts Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. “We look forward to the public’s input on toll charges before the Board votes to finalize rates on October 6.”

Point-to-point tolls may change because of the location of gantries selected by the previous Administration and because there will be 16 gantries with the AET system compared with 26 toll plaza locations now. Under the proposed gantry toll rates presented today, just over half of all drivers would see their tolls either decrease or remain the same and another 20 percent of drivers would see an increase of five or ten cents per trip. Under proposed rates, higher increases would occur on trips that are currently un-tolled, for example, for travel in tunnels headed to the airport or for those drivers in the Newton area where a toll had been removed. The proposed gantry rates will be the subject of seven public hearings and a public comment period beginning after Labor Day.

The Board was also briefed about existing and proposed policies to restrict the usage and retention of data collected by gantries. Current law requires subpoenas for authorities to access driver data, mirroring the existing policies for the Massachusetts E-ZPass system. MassDOT is working with the Executive Office of Public Safety to establish clear policies for the use and retention of AET data. MassDOT is in discussions with public safety officials about the very limited circumstances in which AET-generated “Hot List” or other information could be used in the case of public safety emergencies.

MassDOT officials estimate that the agency will save about $5 million in annual operating costs with AET. The cost of designing and building the physical AET system is about $130 million and toll plaza removal and reconstruction, excluding the Sumner Tunnel, will cost about $133 million.

Read More

Two-Way Tolling Testing to Roll Out this Summer on the Mystic/Tobin Bridge

By Seth Daniel

A top state transportation official apologized to drivers this week after a Boston media outlet reported that tolling in both directions on the Mystic/Tobin Bridge is set to roll out this year – a plan that has been reported in the Record since 2013.

Tom Tinlin of the state Department of Transportation (DOT) told the i-Team in Boston on Tuesday that several meetings were held three years ago, but a reminder should have gone out earlier before the state began installing equipment – which was done on northbound Tobin lanes last Friday – and preparing for tolling in the northbound direction.

“At the end of the day, we have to be more in tune with our customers, the people that we serve,” Tinlin told the i Team. “Surprises are never a good thing.”

Two-way tolling was in place many years ago on the Tobin Bridge, but was discontinued in favor of charging only those coming into Charlestown from Chelsea one larger fee. The two-way plan made a comeback three years ago when the state Department of Transportation (DOT) began an All Electronic Tolling (AET) program. That program went into place more than a year ago in the southbound Tobin lanes.

The new program would split the difference on tolls, meaning drivers would pay $1.25 either way at the regular price. The discount program for Charlestown and Chelsea residents, however, would remain in place and also be split in half, the DOT previously reported.

The plan for two-way tolling was reported almost three years ago in the Record and its sister paper, the Charlestown Patriot Bridge, when a state environmental filing revealed the plans deep within a 52-page document. At the time, the plan included the Harbor tunnels in Eastie as well, but those have been pulled from the AET program until a later date.

“Starting with public meetings in 2013, MassDOT officials have stated that the Tobin Bridge would have a toll in one direction only as long as cash payments were being taken but then would return to having tolls in each direction after All Electronic Tolling is activated state-wide,” said Jacquelyn Goddard, spokesperson for the DOT. “As stated publicly, the tolls will be revenue-neutral, so a driver crossing on the Tobin and paying $2.50 now to travel southbound and traveling for free northbound, will, after electronic tolling goes ‘live,’ pay $1.25 to travel southbound and $1.25 to travel northbound. Several days ago, gantry infrastructure was installed by MassDOT on the Tobin Bridge over northbound lanes but northbound tolls are not scheduled to be ‘live’ until the end of the year, at such time as All Electronic Tolling is scheduled to go ‘live’ state-wide.”

The DOT anticipates testing the software on the new equipment installed in the northbound lanes this summer, even if they don’t officially start charging until later in the year.

State Rep. Dan Ryan, who represents both Chelsea and Charlestown, said he is actually in favor of two-way tolling as a way to make traffic jams in his district more predictable. He actually called for the idea in a letter to Environmental Secretary Matthew Beaton last summer regarding the Wynn Boston Harbor casino permit.

“I don’t think two-way should come as a big surprise,” he said. “New technology has allowed us to go back to a more fair and equitable collection system for the communities surrounding the Tobin. I would like some data in the first six months to see if the change affected driver behavior. I mentioned two-way tolling in last year’s letter to Secretary Beaton regarding the Wynn casino. The way I look at it, Chelsea and Charlestown are as impacted by traffic on Route 99 as well as on Route 1. My hope is that consistent tolling at least makes the traffic predictable.”

Read More

Unknown Millions: Little Known but Lucrative ‘Pots of Money’ from MGC Taxes to Begin Inaugural Grant Round Next Week

Unknown Millions: Little Known but Lucrative ‘Pots of Money’ from MGC Taxes to Begin Inaugural Grant Round Next Week

To date, casino money for local communities has centered on the lucrative host community agreements and surrounding community agreements, but a whole new pot of money is set to become available for the first time on Monday, Feb. 2, when grant applications for the state Community Mitigation Fund (CMF) are due.

It is the inaugural deadline for what is expected to be a very lucrative annual grant process open to many communities in the area and consisting of several multi-million dollar pots of money.

So far, Chelsea has been ahead of the curve, officials said, in making sure to get into the inaugural pipeline for what could be many years of “found money” being awarded to the City.

The new pot of money – one of several pots of money that will be fully available once the Wynn Everett casino and other casinos are up and running – comes via fees paid to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) through licensing fees and taxes. Per the state’s Expanded Gaming Law, large chunks of those fees are set aside for Community Mitigation, the state Cultural Council, the state Tourism Fund, Gaming Local Aid Fund, Capital Projects Fund, an Education Fund, a Transportation Infrastructure and Development Fund, and, of course, the Race Horse Development Fund – among four others.

Wynn Everett officials indicated that there would be millions of dollars going into the various funds listed above in their first full year of operation – money that is meant to go to communities to help fund projects and mitigate impacts through the use of state taxes and fees paid by casino operators.

During the first year of operation, Wynn will provide $201 million to the 12 separate funds, it said, including:

*$4.02 million to the Mass Cultural Council

*$30.15 million to the Transportation Infrastructure and Development Fund

*$28.14 million to the Education Fund

*$13.07 million to the CMF

*$40.2 million to the Gaming Local Aid Fund

*$5.03 million to the Race Horse Development Fund

*$2.01 million to the Mass Tourism Fund

*$9.05 million to the Local Capital Projects Fund

Of course, other casino and slot parlor operators would also be contributing monies to those funds as well.

“This CMT is only one of the pots of money available,” said Ron Hogan, a planning analyst for the City of Malden. “There’s a transportation mitigation fund and several others too that can be accessed as well by communities. You really, as a community, have to be out there quickly and be aware of all that’s available and getting at it if you want to get the maximum benefit…It’s the old saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

The money is over and above any other surrounding community agreements or host community agreements that are in effect, and it is solely upon individual communities to apply for the grants.

That first deadline for the first pot of money – the Community Mitigation Fund (CMF) – comes on Monday, Feb. 2, and will continue each year per state law on the first business day of February. Already, millions of dollars have been deposited into the various state gaming tax funds, though the CMF will be limited this year. Reportedly, the first deposits to the fund from gaming license fees were around $17.5 million.

MGC officials said the CMF will be allocating $100,000 planning grants from the fund this year to communities that are host or surrounding communities – or even those that applied to be host or surrounding communities and were denied.

That limited amount of money comes due to the fact that there is really nothing to mitigate yet due to the fact that construction hasn’t started. Therefore, for the initial year of grants, the MGC decided to award planning grants to communities to study the potential factors they could face due to the construction and opening of a casino.

With so much money at stake, one would think that most every community is chomping at the bit to get a piece of the newfound revenues. However, it isn’t the case as some communities have jumped out in front to get in the pipeline, others have been slow to understand that the pots of money are available and others have been hesitant to participate in the process due to ongoing litigation.

The City of Boston would have likely qualified for the $100,000 planning grant from the CMT, something that could be put towards ongoing traffic and community planning efforts just underway in Charlestown.

However, the City would not confirm whether or not it had applied or would apply for the CMT due to the ongoing lawsuit filed just recently.

“The City of Boston is now engaged in litigation and therefore cannot comment on specifics related to the lawsuit,” read a statement from Boston Mayor Martin Walsh. “Mayor Walsh is taking this action to protect the City and the neighborhood of Charlestown.”

Meanwhile, in another community with a lawsuit against the MGC – Revere – it has applied for the CMT and hopes to use the potential $100,000 grant for traffic planning.

The Revere Mayor’s Office said they have been working with their planning consultant, Paul Rupp, to apply for the inaugural round of state gaming tax grants.

Revere is the only community surrounding Wynn Everett that would have no surrounding community agreement monies available to it. The community never engaged with Wynn Everett to negotiate such an agreement due to legal restrictions in its host community agreement with Mohegan Sun.

“We did put an application in a week ago,” said Mayoral Assistant Miles Lang-Kennedy. “We’re looking to potentially use it for planning efforts for Rt. 16 and Rt. 1. It’s all very new this year, but as they go forward, we expect there will be more guidelines.”

Chelsea City Solicitor Cheryl Fisher Watson said her City has been on the forefront of looking to get involved with the numerous funds available from the MGC, including the CMT. Getting in the pipeline is very important to the City, she said, and they have appointed Planner John DePriest to be a representative on the CMT Committee.

“This year it’s a little different because there is no construction or casino to mitigate,” Watson said. “We are definitely on board with this. We’re putting in for the maximum grant this year. We have a lot of traffic concerns to mitigate. We want to get ahead of the gaming addiction and education issues. We’re also interested in looking at jobs and, of course, public safety is very important in this too…We’ve already looked preliminarily at some intersections. We’ve done our homework. We’re ahead of the curve on this I think.”

Hogan, of Malden, has also been appointed to the CMT Committee by his community.

“We already have our application in and already have had conversations with the Commission about what activities would be ok for use of the mitigation fund,” he said. “Communities are going to have to be on top of this in years to come so they can figure out how to use it effectively. This year it’s kind of a no-brainer. It’s money that’s just on the table.”

Read More