|By Chris Maza
From left, East Longmeadow Selectman Angela Thorpe, East Longmeadow Town Administrator Nick Breault, Longmeadow Select Board Chair Marie Angelides, Longmeadow Town Manager Stephen Crane and Longmeadow Selectman Richard Foster were among those who attended a presentation of the findings of the peer review of MGM Springfield’s traffic study by Greenman-Pedersen Inc.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza
SPRINGFIELD – Representatives from eight potential or currently designated surrounding communities were on hand at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s (PVPC) Springfield Office for a presentation by Greenman-Pedersen Inc. (GPI) regarding its peer review of MGM’s traffic study for its proposed downtown Springfield casino on Dec. 10.
GPI was hired by the PVPC after MGM selected the commission to conduct the review of the gaming company’s projections of the impacts a casino in the city’s South End would have on local traffic patterns. East Longmeadow, Longmeadow and Wilbraham were among the communities that agreed to be part of PVPC’s regional study.
Jason DeGray, project manager for GPI, told the group of town leaders that his firm had been actively engaged in the review since Nov. 14, giving them essentially a month to perform its technical review of MGM’s data and throughout the process the gaming company had engaged them in good faith.
“This is hot off the presses, so to speak, because we were finishing off some of the major elements as late as last night,” DeGray said. “This review has been a very fluid process.”
DeGray called the MGM proposal maybe the most interesting case in the state because of MGM’s claims that a resort casino would act as an economic engine that would revitalize downtown Springfield.
While other proposed developments, such as the one in Everett, are also in urban centers, none are planned for the heart of the city like MGM’s. If successful in their claim, DeGray said, there could be impacts that affect surrounding towns from increased downtown business that is not directly related to the casino, but spurred by the development.
“If we’re being intellectually honest, we have to have this conversation,” he said.
DeGray explained that when generating its models, MGM had adjusted its projections for local draw to the casino down. For example, he said, MGM lowered the local draw projections 10 percent because smoking is not allowed inside establishments in Massachusetts, which may cause some casino patrons to continue going south to Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun resort casinos in Connecticut where such restrictions don’t exist. Also, local draw projections were lowered an additional 10 percent because the MGM project would be an urban casino. For the purposes of their review, in the interest of being conservative, GPI adjusted those back up.
He also said that MGM was projecting in their study that employees would be coming from the same areas as other commercial developments in Springfield, many of who reside in the city.
GPI identified Longmeadow as one of the towns with the largest areas of concern and Longmeadow Town Manager Stephen Crane said the findings validated the recent conversations the Select Board has had recently regarding impacts and mitigation.
“I think that he affirmed what, I think, the Select Board and I have been thinking about what the framework of a fair agreement is,” Crane said. “We haven’t felt a look-back only is fair and we think that opinion was affirmed by GPI’s presentation.”
The most significant of those being Interstate 91, which would generate an additional 286 car trips per hour during peak traffic times.
“That traffic is going to enter into a pretty longstanding regional congestion issue,” DeGray said. “If that congestion gets worse, it’s going to have an impact on Route 5 trying to get to the highway system. The casino is really responsible for that incremental increase that this traffic poses to the highway system.”
He also said that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has asserted throughout the process that the interstate was its jurisdiction and not the town’s.
Crane said the town would remain steadfast in pursuit of mitigation for traffic on I-91.
“We have made the case repeatedly that 91 traffic is Longmeadow traffic,” he said. “We understand MassDOT’s perspective that that is their road and their problem, however, our fire and ambulance service responds to calls on 91. If anything happens on 91, which happens routinely, 91 traffic does become Longmeadow traffic. We feel the state saying, ‘91 isn’t your problem; it’s ours’ doesn’t really accurately reflect the situation as it exists today and will continue to make that point.”
GPI projected an additional 53 vehicles per hour during peak traffic times on Route 5 through Longmeadow. He identified the intersections of Longmeadow and Converse streets and Longmeadow Street and Forest Glen Road, both of which MGM also identified, as well as Converse and Laurel streets as areas of focus.
He suggested traffic signal progression and optimization of signal timings was an appropriate response to the added traffic on the secondary highway and Longmeadow would be within its rights to ask for funding to perform that work.
He also suggested the town include the intersections of Converst Street and Dwight Road, Williams Street and Dwight and Maple roads and Shaker Road and Williams Street as locations that should be reviewed as part of a look-back approach.
“There are reasonable parts of having certain intersections as a look-back as opposed to having up-front mitigation,” Crane said. “Our traffic consultants were here, so we will work with them to go through GPI’s presentation. We have plenty of information now.”
GPI projected 88 additional trips per hour on Route 83/North Main Street, specifically the stretch of five traffic signals leading to Sumner Avenue in Springfield.
“The level of impact we’re seeing from 88 trips doesn’t merit a full reconstruction and widening out of that roadway,” DeGray said, adding that asking MGM to fund the design and coordination of a progression for five signals was reasonable.
The intersections of North Main Street and Harkness Avenue, and North Main Street, Mapleshade and Westwood avenues were identified as high-crash locations, which would require a road safety audit and short-term improvements.
The rotary, however, was not included as an area of significant potential impact, nor was it considered a possible look-back location.
“We don’t feel the level of impact is enough to assert the casino should take ownership of the East Longmeadow rotary, which has been a longstanding regional issue and one that simply doesn’t rise to that level of impact,” he said.
Selectman Angela Thorpe told Reminder Publications she was disappointed that the rotary wasn’t included as a look-back location.
East Longmeadow Town Counsel James Donahue said the regional traffic study would not be the only thing the town would take into consideration when discussing mitigation and that some sort of look-back would be a useful tool for the town.
“The study, while it is helpful, is not really focused enough to really address the issues that may or may not face East Longmeadow in the future,” he said. “That’s why the idea of a look-back procedure would be very helpful in addressing not only the projections based on suppositions, but the actual situation as it lays out on the ground as the facility goes forward.”
Wilbraham, DeGray said, would see a total impact of 36 additional vehicles per hour during peak traffic times – 18 on Boston Road and 18 on Springfield Street.
He also suggested the Boston Road intersections at Stony Hill Road and Main Street, Springfield Street intersections at Main Street, Stony Hill Road and Faculty Street, as well as the intersection of Faculty Street and Main be considered look-back locations.
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