With Milford preparing to vote next week on a $1 billion Foxwoods casino proposal, a review financed by opponents slammed the developer’s traffic plan while the town’s police and fire unions gave the gambling resort a resounding endorsement.
New lanes that Foxwoods has proposed on Interstate 495 would be nothing more than “a driveway” to the resort, and would do nothing to alleviate congestion on the highway during peak commuter hours, according to the review paid for by the MetroWest Anti-Casino Coalition.
The traffic study, conducted by a Vermont-based consulting firm, Resource Systems Group Inc., found that additional casino traffic along I-495 and the Massachusetts Turnpike “will create new locations of failing conditions and further degrade existing areas,” according to the report summary.
“Foxwoods is playing this as if they are the captain of the Titanic and there are no icebergs ahead,” Hopkinton Selectman Brian Herr, the coalition’s chairman, said in an announcement accompanying the report’s release.
Milford voters will go to the polls on Tuesday to decide whether to allow a casino to set up operations in town. If the measure passes, Special Town Meeting would be convened to consider rezoning the casino site, a 187-acre parcel next to Route 16 and I-495 near the Holliston line. If voters in either venue reject the casino proposal, the plan would go no further.
Although traffic has become a top issue for casino foes, supporters are confident that the mitigation plan can alleviate much of the congestion. Supporters also received a boost over the weekend with endorsements from the Milford Permanent Firefighters Association and Milford Police Association.
Presidents of both labor organizations said members endorsed the casino plans because of the financial benefits to the town contained in the host community agreement signed by the town and Foxwoods.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime decision for this great town. That land in question is going to be developed one way or another,” said Sean Meehan, president of the firefighters association and a lifelong Milford resident. “Why shouldn’t the town get some financial assistance from a company that will be pumping additional funds into the town, as well as the state?”
Officer Robert Tusino, president of the police association, agreed, saying the money from Foxwoods could be used to improve the schools and after-school programs, things that are desperately needed in town.
“It’s painfully obvious to me,” he said. “This is so important to our future.”
Tusino, who also grew up in Milford, is living in his grandfather’s house, a short walk from the police station, after spending six years in the New York City Police Department.
“This is not the same town as it was 20 years ago; that Milford is gone,” he said. “People opposed to the casino say it will change the town’s culture. Are you kidding me? Come with me on the 4-to-midnight shift, I’ll show you that Milford has already changed.”
Geri Eddins, a member of Casino-Free Milford, said her group understands the unions’ positions.
“The Police and Fire departments are being offered the opportunity to increase employment,” she wrote to the Globe.
Tusino said his association “overwhelmingly” endorsed the Foxwoods plan because of the benefits its members see for the town’s young people if a portion of the additional tax revenue is spent on the schools and after-school programs.
“Let’s take that new revenue and let’s build a new school; let’s lead the way in after-school programs that are the envy of the whole country,” he said. “Not only would crime plummet, but these would be the leaders of the future.”
Tusino said “traffic is definitely a concern,” but he is confident that it could be fixed.
Opponents are not so sure. The MetroWest Anti-Casino Coalition is made up of selectmen from Hopkinton, Holliston, Medway, and Ashland. Each town has contributed money to a fund that paid for the traffic review and a review of Foxwoods’ water-mitigation plans.
“The fact is the studies done by Foxwoods and the Town of Milford have been rushed and not well thought through,” said Herr, the Hopkinton selectman. “The region is headed for significant gridlock and local roads will become overburdened throughout the entire I-495 corridor. The casino will undoubtedly make Interstate 495 look like Route 128.”
The RSG Inc. review also criticizes Foxwoods’ plans to take land in the median strip along I-495 to build the extra collector-distributor lanes, saying the land should be saved in case the state needs it in the future “for other traffic projects benefiting the public good.”
It also says increased traffic along I-495 could cause more people to use local roads, creating more backups along routes 15, 85, 135, and 106.
Sean Reardon, the project engineer for Foxwoods, disputed those findings.
“Contrary to RSG’s conclusions regarding the collector-distributor road system, the system will indeed provide a benefit to mainline I-495,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. He said the lanes would allow drivers not headed to the casino to continue along the highway “unencumbered by the on- or offramp traffic friction that exists today.”
In addition, he questioned RSG’s experience working on projects outside Vermont, and its familiarity with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
In contrast, he wrote, the town’s traffic consultant, Tighe and Bond, has “extensive experience” working in Massachusetts and with resort casino projects. “We have far more confidence in input provided by Tighe and Bond in its role as the town’s review consultant, and trust that MassDOT will ensure impacted roadways are adequately evaluated and protected,” he wrote.
Milford is competing against a proposed complex in Everett, and perhaps a redrawn Suffolk Downs plan in Revere, for the single resort casino license to be awarded by the state in Greater Boston.Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.