Workmen building a massive casino on the Everett side of the Mystic River can easily see the bustling MBTA station on the opposite bank in Somerville, a mere 500 feet away. But to get there requires a circuitous trek over some of Greater Boston’s most congested roads.
Now, Wynn Resorts wants to build a footbridge to span that short distance between the two cities, as part of its plan for its $1.7 billion casino and hotel development, linking it to Assembly Row’s shops and restaurants.
But Wynn’s vision, still in the planning stages, will face formidable opposition in the person of Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, a dogged opponent of the Everett casino who says the bridge would be a bane, not a boon, for his city.
“A footbridge would benefit Steve Wynn and Steve Wynn only,” Curtatone said. “Wynn is looking to tap into the success of Assembly Row to get more people to his craps table.”
The idea of a footbridge has been kicking around for more than a decade, and to some it has only become a more obvious need as a network of riverside parks has improved and expanded, and as more people work, shop, and dine at Assembly Row.
“There are great public spaces along the Mystic River, but the Mystic isn’t being used the way the Charles River is,” said EkOngKar Singh Khalsa, executive director of the Mystic River Watershed Association, which has received funding from Wynn Resorts, among other corporate donors. “We want to get people to enjoy walking and biking along the river, or just getting out to look at the river. A footbridge would help.”
A feasibility study done in 2009 for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which owns large tracts along the river, came up with five alternative river-crossing plans, at estimated costs ranging up to $7.3 million. But without funding the idea stalled.
Wynn Resorts revived the idea last summer and committed $250,000 for a new study.
“It wasn’t our idea originally, but it certainly seems to make a great deal of common sense,” said Chris Gordon, Wynn’s development director. “We envision a nice, elegant bridge that will look nice on the horizon.”
Wynn has secured most of the environmental permits needed to build the casino on a site badly contaminated by chemicals dumped there by previous owners. But the Las Vegas company faces lawsuits against the project filed by the cities of Boston and Somerville.
Those lawsuits are filled with dire warnings of potential environmental disaster if a casino opens and attracts tens of thousands of motor vehicles to already traffic-clogged places like nearby Sullivan Square in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood and Union Square in Somerville.
To address environmental concerns, Wynn has pledged millions of dollars for a fleet of shuttle buses to run from the MBTA’s Wellington Station on the Orange Line in Medford to the casino. But that plan entails time-consuming travel for miles on Revere Beach Parkway and Route 99, which are among the busiest roadways in the region.
A footbridge would allow thousands of casino workers and patrons to walk to the casino, less than 10 minutes away, from Assembly Station.
“It sounds like a great idea, but it also sounds like good public relations for Wynn,” said Lynne Levesque, a Charlestown resident and casino opponent. “Wynn is clearly doing this to get more support at a time when he needs it, when we don’t know if it’s a proposal that can really work.”
Curtatone, who has railed against casinos as purveyors of social ills and a poor excuse for economic development, said he fears the footbridge could drain customers for the many restaurants and bars in Assembly Row. Curtatone said the $1.5 billion Assembly Row development, which is still being completed, will eventually account for 20,000 jobs.
But some of those workers said they liked the idea of attracting more people to the burgeoning neighborhood, even if they are en route to a casino.
“To me, it’s a no-brainer,” said Michael Purrini, a bartender at Tony C’s Sports Bar in Assembly Row. “It would be great for us. We’d get some of the business. If you are going to spend billions on a casino, why wouldn’t you use every means to get people there?”
At Assembly Station, commuter Tiogo Almaido said there is already too much traffic on the roads — including some drivers who get in their cars after drinking. “You have a drink at the casino? Take the train home,” he said with a smile.Sean P. Murphy can be
reached at email@example.com.
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