Traffic is the focus at South Bay Town Center meeting

Changes to the South Bay Town Center design were met with both support and concern at a Boston Redevelopment Authority-hosted public meeting last Wednesday, as community members assessed traffic flow at the 10-acre site.

Alterations have been made to the street plan, as “a function of some concerns from the community,” said Keith Hague, with the developer Allstate Road (Edens), which owns and operates the existing South Bay Mall adjacent to the project site.

The site’s basic structure has changed little: Four buildings with a combination of residential, retail, and parking; and a hotel with approximately 130 rooms and structured parking. Of the project’s 475 residential units, 62 will be affordable housing.

Traffic, however, remains a central and contentious topic. In the Draft Project Impact Report submitted Jan. 22, developers introduced a “Boston Street bypass road” that would run parallel to the congested street and would direct traffic into the project site from Interstate 93, without allowing cars to exit onto Boston Street.

“Boston Street was of critical concern,” said Robert Michaud of MDM Transportation Consultants. “We needed to minimize the extent to which we rely on it.”

Developers incorporated West Howell Street and the proposed West Howell Street Extension into the plan for redesign, implementing a slightly raised pedestrian crossing system and otherwise trying to “clean up what has always been a maddening situation,” Michaud said.

Although not within the development site, the intersection at Columbia Road and Dorchester Avenue is scheduled to be redesigned to improve the intersection’s alignment and ensure two full lanes of traffic rather than the current single lane and hybrid turn lane.

Some at the meeting, including the lawyer India Minchoff of Boston Street, took issue with the developer’s assertion that they could not alter the design and flow of streets. A renovation of Clapp Street, in particular, was asked for, due to fears that commuters would use side streets for cut-throughs and add congestion to the area. Hague emphasized that the developers had to work with the transportation department, and could not “unilaterally” alter off-site roads.

In reviewing the community benefits section, Hague said the project would provide about 1,600 construction-related jobs and approximately 450 permanent jobs. An annual gift of $10,000 to be distributed among local groups has also been pledged.

Along with the street redesign, the traffic signals and cameras would connect with the Boston Transportation Department’s network at Allstate Road and Boston Street at Frontage Road traffic signals.

The project received union support at the meeting from Harry Brett Jr. of Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 12 and Vincent Scalisi of Carpenters Local 56. Scalisi, who works from 750 Dorchester Ave., said the carpenters union thinks the project would be “great for the neighborhoods” and “endorses it as it stands right now.”

BRA project manager Raul Duverge closed the meeting with a plea for feedback for the community. “I can’t emphasize enough: Please submit any comments to me,” he said. The comment period for the current iteration of the project ends on April 7. Thus far, Duverge said he has received very few comments through email or mail.

The full updated proposal can be found at the BRA website.