Senator Petruccelli: Put casino legislation in the hands of voters

Citing its potential for job creation, infrastructure improvements and a solid way to shore up the state’s $250 million thoroughbred industry, Senator Anthony Petruccelli said he would support a plan to construct a resort-style casino at Suffolk Downs Racetrack. However, in the end, said Petruccelli, the decision will be in the hands of East Bostonians through a host community referendum vote.

“This is far too important to not let the people who are going to be impacted have the final say,” said Petruccelli.

For several years now Petruccelli had remained cautiously pessimistic and carefully researched the impacts other casinos have had on local economies in other parts of the country, weighed the pros and cons but kept his opinion of placing the state’s first ever resort-style casino in his backyard close to his vest.

Then, a few months back, Petruccelli bumped into an old friend who had recently lost a good paying job with benefits from DHL. The husband and father of two explained to Petruccelli how the historic downturn in the state and federal economy had hit he and his family very hard.

“It was right there and then I made my decision,” said Petruccelli. “I have an inherited task in my capacity as an elected official to help people get jobs and secure work when I can. The story of my friend and the fact that I have a stack of resumes on my desk from out-of-work constituents tells me we have to do something very soon to create jobs.”

In the end and after months of internal debate, Petruccelli said the benefits far outweigh the risks.

“Suffolk Downs ownership predicts they could create 2,500 permanent jobs in the opening months of a casino,” he said.

However, Petruccelli said his support for a Suffolk Downs casino would come with conditions …one being a commitment from Suffolk Downs to finance a overhaul of the Route 1A corridor from the Sumner/Callahan Tunnels to Copeland Circle in Revere.

In 2009, an independent study commissioned by Petruccelli showed that regardless if a casino is built at Suffolk Downs costs to improve the infrastructure along the Route 1A corridor from the Sumner/Callahan Tunnels to Copeland Circle in Revere would cost the state almost $500 million.

Some of the study’s findings, conducted by John Vitagliano of Seagull Consulting, have been highlighted by Petruccelli in the Senate Transportation Committee’s version of the Transportation Bond Bill.

“I was asking the executive office of transportation to take a good hard look at significant improvements that need to be done along the Route 1A corridor,” said Petruccelli. “These infrastructure improvements have been part of the lower North Shore transportation improvement study since 2000 and it’s merely a coincidence that now we are talking about the possibility of a full-scale casino at Suffolk Downs which is situated along this strip.”

Rush hour traffic has long been a problem on Route 1A and anyone who uses the road during their commute is familiar with the gridlock that occurs southbound in the morning and northbound in the afternoon.

“I want to look at the big picture–whether there is a casino or not–and see if its feasible to make some of the changes first suggested in the 2000 study,” said Petruccelli. “We’ve gotten the ball moving on some of these projects in the past but has not been a major priority of past gubernatorial administrations.”

While the focus of the study expands on the 2000 lower North Shore transportation improvement study it does in fact include potential traffic impacts a casino might have on Route 1A from Eastie to Revere.

“A local casino would have a major traffic impact…because casinos are among the heaviest traffic generators compared to other possible uses (of Suffolk Downs),” wrote Vitagliano in his study. “Casinos generate constant high traffic volumes from 8 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week.”

Even before a casino was discussed and like the lower North Shore transportation improvement study suggested back in 2000, traffic along Route 1A needs to be addressed now. Furthermore, Vitagliano suggests that add a casino to the congestion that already exists along Route 1A impacts could be felt as far north as the Route 1A-Route 60 interchange in Revere.

In his study, Vitagliano suggested widening Route 1A from Curtis Street in East Boston to Mahoney Circle in Revere. This would include property taking and cost $40 million; widen Revere Beach Parkway in Revere, Everett and Medford at a cost of $90 million; perform a Copeland Circle grade separation in Revere that would cost $75 million; perform a Mahoney Circle grade separation in Revere that would cost $30 million; perform a Brown Circle grade separation in Revere that would cost $25 million; install a Route 1A to Route 16 connector on Railroad Ave. in Revere at a cost of $45 million; construct a haul road in East Boston at a cost of $20 million; build a Route 1A-Chelsea Street Bridge connector in East Boston that would cost $40 million; perform a Route 1A/Boardman Street grade separation in East Boston that would cost $10 million; build a Route 1A-Route 16 interchange that would cost $15 million; perform a Revere Street grade separation in Revere that would cost $10 million; improve traffic signalization along the Route 1A corridor at a cost of $5 million; and finally mitigation for traffic impacts on the local communities would be $15 million.

The total cost of the improvements would have a price tag of $420 million according to Vitagliano.

It’s this reason that Petruccelli said he’d throw his support behind a full scale casino and not a plan to simply put slot machines at Suffolk Downs.

“Slots would not generate enough capital to allow Suffolk Downs to create the amount of jobs, fund the necessary transportation improvements and sure up the thoroughbred industry in manner that is the most beneficial to the host communities,” said Petruccelli.

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