Traffic engineers hired by Foxwoods Massachusetts have designed a $100 million plan to reconstruct 3.4 miles of Interstate 495 and add a connecting road to Route 16 through the site of its proposed $1 billion casino in Milford, a design they say would keep more than 90 percent of drivers heading to the casino off local roads.
The 46-page plan calls for adding two “collector/distributer” lanes to Interstate 495 in each direction that would connect with the highway’s interchanges at routes 109 and 85. The added lanes would provide access to the casino and Route 16 via a new road that would be built through the 187-acre property.
The plan also includes efforts to reduce speeding along Route 16, which crosses into Holliston less than a mile from the highway, and to ease traffic backups elsewhere in town.
“No one traveling on 495 to get to our site will have to get onto Route 16 or other local roads,” said Sean Reardon, a vice president at TetraTech and the project engineer for Foxwoods Massachusetts.
The traffic plans were presented last week during the first of four public meetings planned to provide details on various aspects of the casino proposal to Milford residents and the Board of Selectmen.
The board’s chairman, William D. Buckley, is on the record as opposing the casino. The town’s other selectmen, Dino B. DeBartolomeis and Brian W. Murray, have said they need more information, specifically about the likely impact on traffic, water, and sewer infrastructure, before deciding whether to start negotiations with Foxwoods on a host community agreement.
After last week’s meeting, Murray stopped just short of saying he is satisfied with how Foxwoods is planning to deal with traffic.
“This was a great session; they provided good information,” he said. “I want to target the numbers and really distill them so I can come to my own conclusions about whether we’d be creating gridlock on 495.”
But the MetroWest AntiCasino Coalition, made up of selectmen from Ashland, Holliston, Hopkinton, and Medway, warned that the proposal “is long on wishful thinking but short on concrete, realistic traffic mitigation plans.”
In a response issued after the meeting, the group stated that the so-called “collector/distributor” lanes would be insufficient to accommodate casino traffic, leading to backups on Interstate 495 that would push drivers onto local roads.
In addition, citing other highway projects, the coalition said that construction could be delayed 20 years while the necessary state and federal permits are obtained.
But Reardon said he has already had preliminary meetings with officials from the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, and he is confident that approval could be obtained within two years, followed by a projected two-year construction period.
Traffic engineers from the consulting firm Tighe & Bond, working on the town’s behalf and paid for by Foxwoods, said they had “intensive discussions” with Foxwoods engineers that were “sometimes heated, sometimes cordial,” more than 75 e-mail exchanges, and several conference calls during the review.
Joseph C. Balskus, director of traffic and parking at Tighe & Bond, said the Foxwoods traffic plan “appropriately evaluates existing and future traffic conditions,” and was done in accordance with standard engineering practices.
In addition, a letter from Tighe & Bond posted on the town’s website said the developer’s plans are expected to provide benefits, and “appear to mitigate the significant traffic generated by the project.”
The entire letter, as well as TetraTech’s traffic plan, have been posted online at casino.milford.ma.us.
“Traffic’s not an issue. I’m pro-business and pro-casino, and I’m all for this because of the jobs,” Milford resident Jim Kingdom said after listening to the traffic presentation.
Members of Casino-Free Milford, formed by residents opposed to the project, said they still had doubts after the meeting.
The group had presented its own evaluation of the proposal at a previous selectmen’s meeting, and questioned Foxwoods’ credibility because of changes still being made to the traffic and site plans.
Those changes include moving the new travel lanes on Interstate 495 from the outside edges of the highway to the inside median strip.
“We are concerned that what they are presenting has not been vetted,” Steve Trettel told selectmen.
But Reardon said that after consulting with state and federal highway officials, the original plan had to be modified, and would actually benefit homeowners along I-495 who had opposed adding traffic lanes closer to their backyards.
Reardon also said the original proposed location of the gaming complex, with a casino, five restaurants, three lounges, and hotel and retail space, on the property had to be moved after a meeting with state environmental officials.
The earlier plan put the buildings on the highway side of the site, away from houses.
The discovery of vernal pools, which are protected breeding grounds for various species, has necessitated moving the buildings to within 600 or 700 feet of houses on Wildwood Drive, he said.
“I just want everyone to know this is a very fluid process,” said David Nunes, chief development officer of the proposed casino, telling residents that their concerns are being heard. “We want this to be something the town really owns,” he said. “We are confident we can provide a development that is the least intrusive in Massachusetts.”
The Milford site is the only suburban location vying for the sole Greater Boston casino license to be awarded under the state’s expanded gaming law.
Foxwoods is competing with Suffolk Downs in East Boston and Revere, which has proposed a casino at the horse track with partner Caesars Entertainment, and Wynn Resorts, which has released plans for a complex on the Mystic River waterfront in Everett, where a referendum was overwhelmingly passed by voters.
Milford selectmen said they should be ready within the next several weeks to decide whether to enter into negotiations with Foxwoods on the host community agreement; if the board and Foxwoods can agree on a mitigation and compensation package, the proposal would go before voters in a townwide election.
The casino proposal would also need Town Meeting approval of a zoning change before it could be considered by the state Gaming Commission, which is expected to grant a license by early next year.
Milford selectmen said they should be ready by the end of this month or early August to decide whether to enter into negotiations with Foxwoods for a host agreement, the first step necessary before a referendum is put before voters. If that vote passes, the proposal would still need a zoning change at Town Meeting before being considered by the state Gaming Commission, which is expected to grant a license by early next year.
Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.