by Josh Resnek
The casino opening June 23 is bearing down on us, coming inevitably closer with the mass and weight of a speeding freight train.
Encore executives John Tocco and Encore’s traffic guru, Jim Folk, appeared before the city council last week to a great deal of fanfare.
The city council had been awaiting for a long time this presentation.
It was intended to explain the over under of traffic and parking when the casino opens its doors. It did just that.
It bears repeating again and again in articles devoted to casino traffic and its possible effect here on the quality of life, that the casino depends on traffic and crowds for its economic vitality and viability.
Without traffic the casino fails its mission.
“I am telling you there is going to be traffic and we know that,” said Encore’s Folk.
His take on the matter was simple: it’s the opening of one of the largest entertainment and hotel venues on the East Coast. It is going to bring traffic to a halt, especially at the beginning.
He cautioned the councilors not to fear the traffic but to live with it at the start, and then to watch how the difficulties are handled.
“What we can do is mitigate it with our plan. If we see traffic hot spots we can adjust accordingly,” Folk said.
“We are not working in a bubble. We have a competent transportation plan,” he added.
Folk described Encore the way an MIT professor would detail an engineering phd’s knowledge of complex circuits. He said there is an extensive plan book filled with plays, akin to the way the Patriots Coach Bill Belichick meets the demands of every contest with his playbook.
Tocco preceded Folk with an energetic and exhaustive look at the multi-city, regional type of traffic mitigation plans that have been underway for several years.
Tocco’s understanding of what is being planned is encyclopedic.
His instructive comments revealed how deep his understanding is of what Encore is attempting.
This reveals as well Encore’s expenditure of millions of dollars to make road improvements and to plan for contingencies when the place opens with an eye toward employing a regional fix.
He described to the councilors with a video program accompanying his words a traffic mitigation scenario that includes not only Everett, but Boston, Medford, and Chelsea.
He emphasized that one of the main pillars of traffic mitigation is removing car traffic heading directly to the casino from the equation as much as humanly possible.
He gave insight into the realities of traffic and parking as they exist today and how things will change when the doors open – very likely on June 23.
Encore employees are not allowed to park at the property. This removes about 4000-5000 automobiles from impacting the casino on crowded roadways.
Those staying at the hotel pay $49 a day in parking charges to drive up to the casino.
Employees park elsewhere, in Malden and Everett and then collect at Wellington Circle of the Gateway Mall for private bus shuttles that take them to and from work.
Visitors to the casino are being urged to use public transportation, and the water shuttle to get there and back.
Tocco used the analogy of the Red Sox crowds using the T to get to Fenway Park instead of being mauled by car parking charges and the misery that comes with parking in an area where 37,000 people are all let out at once following a game.
Both he and Folk entertain visions of a huge swirl, a great circle of traffic heading here in a wave from four neighboring communities being managed with extra police details.
Timing, both of them said, is everything. They seemed to think the traffic, in the end, will be manageable despite the size of the facility and its power to attract large crowds to its hotel and to its gaming tables and slot machines.
The T parking lots are empty during the peak casino times in the early evening and later, they explained. Peak traffic hours are not peak casino hours, they said.
They are right about this.
Anticipated travel time from Logan Airport to the front door of the casino and from the casino back to Logan Airport were not discussed.
Fast transport from the airport to the casino and back is crucial to the casino’s success, many believe. Without efficient transport times between those two places all the time is a door they don’t presently have a key to unlock.
Tocco’s presentation more than Folk’s revealed the massive effort that Encore/Wynn is making to mitigate traffic and to alleviate parking difficulties onsite or near to it.
Tocco’s was a five star presentation on behalf of a five star corporation that tosses more money than a mortal can imagine at problems like traffic and parking.
That is the likely golden lining in all of this worry that has been expressed that everything is going to stop, that the traffic will move like molasses or thick syrup, and the whole venture will be taken taken down by the traffic.
It appears likely this is not going to happen.