Can a gondola be Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria’s ticket to the Orange Line?
The DeMaria administration is seeking help from state gaming regulators to find the answer. The city just applied for a $200,000 grant to study an aerial tramway along the Broadway corridor, a 1.5-mile line that would stretch from the Encore Boston Harbor casino to Everett City Hall.
Consider it a possible phase two: The decision follows nascent efforts by the casino’s owner, Wynn Resorts, to plan for a gondola that would connect the waterfront casino with the MBTA’s Assembly Station, across the Mystic River in Somerville.
That connection was initially supposed to be made by a footbridge; DeMaria had once hoped Wynn would pay for most of the bridge project, if not all of it. But the city’s grant application to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission hints that Wynn is now betting on a gondola system to cross the river, whisking hundreds of customers and employees each hour to and from the Everett side, as many as 10 at a time.
The plans to build an 800-foot footbridge are already far along in the permitting process. City officials still hope that both a bridge and a gondola eventually could be a reality, but they recognize Wynn will probably only subsidize one of the options.
Everett officials have long looked across the Mystic with envy at Somerville, where a vibrant community of shops, restaurants, apartments and offices sprouted up at Assembly Row, spurred in part by the T station’s opening in 2014. Commuter rail trains roll through Everett, meanwhile, but do not stop there.
DeMaria considers the Mystic crossing at Assembly to be the simplest way to give his residents the opportunity to benefit from a train connection to Boston. Jay Monty, Everett’s transportation planner, said the administration wants to work with Encore, and anyone else who can help, to make that connection a reality — whether it be via a bridge or a gondola. The difference with the gondola: Everett officials now see a way of extending that connection all the way to Everett Square.
Wynn spokesman Eric Kraus says it’s too early to discuss specifics about the gondola project, including how the costs would compare with the bridge’s. The gondola would provide for a quicker trip to the casino from the train and would be climate controlled, of course. Casino executives still need to hold several meetings with state agencies and community groups before deciding to move forward with the plan. He notes that the gondola could eliminate six shuttle buses a day, running 24/7, used by employees — or about 1,200 bus trips a week.
Wynn and Everett still need to solve another quandary: getting over the Orange Line tracks. Assembly Station currently opens only to the Somerville side. A headhouse would need to be built on the river side of the station, so that T riders could walk over the tracks. That could cost $10 million to $15 million. Everett officials hope that gaming commission funds could be used to help subsidize that project, and they plan to work with Somerville officials to come up with a design.
Jacquelyn Goddard, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, said the station connection could provide significant local and regional benefits, particularly if the bridge is built. But the state needs funding partners to make the headhouse a reality.
And before the headhouse project can advance much further, Wynn needs to choose: footbridge or gondola?
If Wynn picks the latter, the company also must decide where the two landing points would be. Ideally, Kraus said, the trams would directly connect with Assembly Station on the Somerville side. On the Everett side, a gondola station could be built across Broadway on land Wynn owns.
Including that casino stop, Everett officials see the potential for four gondola stations in their city along the Broadway corridor. But it’s hard to know for sure where the stops would be, let alone how much the system would cost and how it would be funded. Those questions, and others, could be addressed in the feasibility study.
Applications for community mitigation fund grants, as they’re called, were due last Friday. (These grants are funded by casino taxes.) The agency’s ombudsman is expected to provide a briefing on the latest batch of grant requests at the gaming commission’s next meeting, on Feb. 13.
The shift to the gondola raises new questions about the footbridge’s future. Advocates have been pushing for such a connection for years, long before the casino opened last June, in part because it would connect Somerville to a bike path that would end on the Everett side of the river.
Wynn officials share DeMaria’s vision to turn this stretch of Broadway, in the shadow of the area’s largest power plant, into an entertainment and hospitality destination. It’s a formidable concept, made even more ambitious now that a gondola system is being seriously pursued.
Jon Chesto can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.