Wynn Resorts offers to bolster MBTA’s Orange Line
Casino pact calls for subsidies that may reach $7.5m
Frequent Orange Line riders know that sinking feeling of seeing that the next train won’t be arriving for another 10 minutes. There’s something about a wait time pushing into the double digits that can make even the most hardened T commuters anxious.
They’re about to get some help from an unusual source: an out-of-town casino developer.
As part of Wynn Resorts’ efforts to win the blessing of state officials for its $1.7 billion Everett gambling palace, the Nevada company agreed to add extra Orange Line trains during certain hours of the day — a plan that will cost the company nearly $7.5 million over the next 15 years.
Wynn detailed the subsidies and their potential impact on train service in a filing with the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs earlier this month.
A state transportation agency spokesman confirmed that this would mark the first example of a private company providing an operating subsidy for MBTA services.
The requirement that Wynn provide an Orange Line subsidy emerged publicly in a certificate that state Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton issued in April.
Wynn anticipates that many of the casino’s 4,000 workers and a portion of its customers would take the Orange Line — even though the casino site in Everett overlooking the Mystic River isn’t within easy walking distance of any station on the line.
Wynn would pay for shuttle buses to pick people up at the Malden Center and Wellington stations and rely on existing MBTA buses to connect with the Sullivan Square station.
There’s also the possibility of a pedestrian bridge over the Mystic linked to the new Assembly Square T stop: Wynn has agreed to spend up to $250,000 to help study the bridge’s feasibility.
The footbridge could be built over the Amelia Earhart dam, alongside a railroad bridge that crosses the Mystic, or as a standalone structure.
Wynn is also proposing to help pay for changes to improve the flow of MBTA buses at the Sullivan Square T stop, but it’s the plan to help pay for operating costs that makes Wynn’s plan so unusual.
Wynn’s operating subsidies would be aimed at mitigating the clog caused by extra passengers on Orange Line trains once the casino opens, and at providing more general late-night service during the week.
As a result, riders along all parts of the Orange Line would benefit from the extra trains Wynn would subsidize.
“By creating a more reliable and frequent transportation system, we think we can pull more people onto the trains,” said Chris Gordon, a project consultant working for Wynn. “[But] the trains we’re paying for don’t just serve us. They go from Forest Hills to Oak Grove, up and down the Orange Line. All the businesses up and down the Orange Line will have additional service.”
The extra trains would be designed to increase Orange Line frequency during the hours of 9 and 10 a.m. and 7 and 11 p.m. on weekdays. Wynn’s filing suggests the average time between train arrivals would drop from 8 minutes to 5 minutes for the morning shift and from 10 minutes to 7½ minutes for the 7 to 8 p.m. shift.
Transportation spokesman Michael Verseckes said the agency is pleased with Wynn’s Orange Line subsidy proposal: It will help address capacity issues at key times of the day while accommodating the additional ridership expected as a result of the casino’s opening.
But casino opponents offer a different view.
Critics said they welcome the extra Orange Line service, but the new train cars would do little to ameliorate the inevitable crush of traffic that Wynn’s project would bring to the already congested Sullivan Square intersection if the casino opens as planned in 2018.
“Seven million dollars to the Orange Line is not enough to buy my affection,” Charlestown resident Ivey St John said.
Sullivan Square’s traffic congestion has emerged as a key dilemma for Wynn.
Beaton, the state environmental secretary, asked Wynn to reach a detente with Boston officials over the kinds of upgrades that Wynn should subsidize at Sullivan Square.
But Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration remains enmeshed in a lawsuit with the state gambling commission over its approval of Wynn’s license — an effort to block the casino from opening — and opted not to participate in talks state officials tried to orchestrate.
Beaton still needs to decide whether Wynn’s recent efforts are enough to award the environmental impact permit needed to start construction. Beaton is expected to make that decision in late August.