The Baker administration delivered a huge boost to Wynn Resorts’ proposal to build a $1.7 billion casino in Everett when its transportation agency signed off on the developer’s plans to deal with an expected increase in traffic near the casino site.
“We believe that no further environmental review need be required based on transportation issues,” J. Lionel Lucien, manager of the Department of Transportation’s public-private development unit, wrote in an Aug. 21 memo obtained by the Globe.
MassDOT’s endorsement of the Wynn plan in Lucien’s memo was forwarded to the state environmental affairs secretary, Matthew Beaton, who is scheduled to decide whether to issue a crucial environmental permit on Friday.
Given that transportation issues constitute a large proportion of any environmental review, MassDOT’s sign-off could be counted as very good news for Wynn, perhaps foreshadowing removal of one of the biggest hurdles the Las Vegas company faces before breaking ground.
In his letter, Lucien does not pronounce all traffic problems solved, but instead states that MassDOT is committed to overseeing the process.
“This plan can be refined and finalized to address the remaining concerns,” Lucien wrote in an eight-page memo. “MassDOT will continue to work with” Wynn and “other interested stakeholders to address longer-term mitigation issues.”
At the same time, Lucien acknowledged concerns expressed by the city of Boston over Wynn’s plans for Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue, and areas of high traffic congestion in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood near ramps to Interstate 93. Boston opposes the casino and the city has filed a lawsuit asking a judge to nullify the license issued to Wynn by the state gambling commission.
“MassDOT shares some of the City of Boston’s concerns regarding the effectiveness of the interim mitigation plan to address the existing deficiencies at Sullivan Square due to its proximity to” Interstate 93, Lucien wrote.
A Wynn spokesman said in a statement that the company is “hopeful for a successful conclusion to this phase” of the environmental review process.
The MassDOT comments put that agency at odds with Attorney General Maura Healey, who wants to see a long-term traffic solution for the area in place before the casino gets built. Healey, a Charlestown resident, has called for a regional transportation study to be done first.
In April, Beaton, while expressing concerns about traffic in Sullivan Square, also mentioned concerns about the impact the casino would have on the Orange Line. Beaton also said at the time that the MBTA had improperly sold land next door to the casino site to Wynn before his office could make a final decision on the MEPA permit.
Beaton asked MassDOT and Wynn to work to resolve Boston officials’ concerns about the traffic burden that casino visitors would pose to Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue.
But now MassDOT officials are saying that Wynn has addressed all three sticking points, at least to their satisfaction. Wynn agreed to contribute nearly $7.5 million over 15 years to Orange Line subsidies, to increase the frequency of the trains. Wynn and the MBTA also agreed to put the 1.75 acres of MBTA land in question, which Wynn wants for access to its site, and the money from that sale into escrow until Beaton’s review is complete.
Lucien wrote in the memo that his agency started the planning process for addressing traffic congestion there by holding two meetings with stakeholders.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack wrote a letter to Beaton last week, saying her agency believes the long-term issues are best addressed through a regional working group.
Boston, meanwhile, is battling the Wynn project in court. Officials say that Wynn’s proposal conflicts with the city’s plans to redesign Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square.