At a Friday briefing on developers’ plans for managing traffic around a proposed Suffolk Downs casino, I felt a strong urge to jump up and kiss Chip Tuttle.
This was an unusual response for me. Although the track’s chief operating officer is a good guy, I’m not normally a huge fan of his work: For many reasons, I’ve long believed casinos are a bad idea, especially the way we’re doing them in Massachusetts.
But in that conference room on Friday, Tuttle was offering something even I could love: A flyover on Route 1A!
This prospect fills me with joy because 1A is the bane of my existence. I am a North Shore commuter, one among tens of thousands of hapless Dantes who ascend from Boston’s underworld and pass through various traffic circles of Hell to get home each evening.
Of all the soul-crushing choke-points on that route, the segment of 1A that runs right by Suffolk Downs is the worst. There, cars from the Ted Williams and Callahan tunnels converge, meeting local traffic from East Boston. The intersection of 1A and Boardman Street is the low point of the trip. There, during rush hours, state troopers sit in their vehicles, changing the lights manually in an attempt to keep chaos at bay.
To this misery, a casino at Suffolk Downs would add thousands of cars a day. Eager to win the approval of neighbors and to make sure itchy gamblers don’t self-immolate in traffic before they can drop their cash, developers had to propose a fix. Their solution: A flyover that allows traffic to flow north up 1A uninterrupted, while local traffic goes along its merry way beneath.
They have proposed a bunch of other traffic improvements, too, some of them miles away. But the flyover, which will cost at least $30 million, is the cake-taker. In a video simulation presented by Tuttle and traffic engineer David Black, little cars moved along the dreamy new roadways with such cheery swiftness that it brought tears to my eyes.
I was unmoved by the glitzy rollout of plans for the oxymoronic “Resort at Suffolk Downs” earlier last week. When the architect spoke of the casino building wrapping its arms around new guests, I thought “and reaching around to lift the wallets from their back pockets.”
But on Friday, I was so enamored with the one thing a casino can offer me that I felt my long-held objections wobbling.
Sure, I worked around slot machines for years, saw how very far the actual players are from the glamour-puss types in the ads. But no traffic light at Boardman Street!
True, most of the money that flows into the place will come not from high-rolling jetsetters sleeping in gas-tank-view suites, but from area residents dropping dollars that would otherwise go to local businesses. But no more troopers!
Yes, there is something truly off about a state hitching its financial well-being to an enterprise in which so many people harm themselves. But a flyover!
Tuttle was offering something that got me right where I lived. I could relate to the union officials who got on board early for the construction jobs. And the legislators who flipped their votes to curry favor with gaming evangelist and House Speaker Robert DeLeo. And the locals who saw casino bigs’ donations to their annual Christmas dinners and signed on.
Everybody focuses on their own needs, does the calculations, makes their peace with the massive enterprise. When a casino comes to Suffolk Downs — and it will — the big picture won’t be pretty. But that flyover will be a thing of beauty.
And those people who say the new 1A won’t be as great as I think? I simply refuse to believe them.