Somerville, MA, July 29, 2014 – While pleased the grounding of the McGrath highway is moving forward, residents and local elected officials who attended a recent meeting told Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) representatives that they want to make sure everyone is kept updated on planning and construction, and that the project is well-coordinated with other work going on around the city.
“As things change on McGrath, how will that effect Union Square, and the study that’s going on right now in Union Square?” Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston asked at the July 17 meeting.
“I [don’t] want silos to be created where we’ve got this stuff going on here. [and] this stuff going on here,” the alderman said, gesturing. “And when all is said is done, it merges, and all of a sudden you’ve got a mess!”
MassDOT officials promised that there would be coordination, and said that the next steps in the project include design, planning and an environmental study. They noted that the publication of the “Grounding McGrath” report late last year was an important “milestone.”
“I don’t want to oversimplify the complicated nature of traffic engineering,” MassDOT Highway Project Manager Michael Trepanier told the audience. But he promised there would be multiple studies for what he called “a complex corridor” before work began.
The Grounding McGrath project has been in the works for several years. It started when MassDOT estimated that the cost of maintaining the raised highway, which cuts the city in half, would be higher than the costs of tearing it down and rebuilding a boulevard in its place.
Many in Somerville – residents and officials – had also long made it clear that they wanted the raised highway gone.
The current proposal is to rebuild the highway as a boulevard that would incorporate pedestrian and cyclist paths as well as continue to allow for the heavy regional traffic the McGrath currently handles. Questions related to the number of lanes and exactly where the new boulevard would begin and end remain unanswered.
“Right now we’re being very simple, saying four versus six,” Trepanier said. “It could be the four, five, six, seven alternative… It’s a moving target. I just want everyone to have that in mind going forward.”
Another matter discussed at the meeting was the ongoing short-term repair of the McGrath. The aging elevated highway needs urgent repairs to keep it safe and standing until the project can begin.
There was no official statement on when the grounding is expected to be finished, but MassDOT project engineer Frank Suszynski said a more concrete timeline for implementation would be announced once a contract is agreed upon.
“I don’t have a definitive answer,” Suszynski said, adding that MassDOT aimed to “implement it as quickly as possible, but also in a cost-effective manner.”
Residents present on July 12 also raised concerns about the state of current repairs and other issues, but overall noted that they felt the grounding project was moving in the right direction.
“By fixing the McGrath highway it’s going to really re-knit the city back together again,” Mark Chase, a Lecturer on transportation planning at Tufts University, told Somerville Neighborhood News. “It’s going to make the city more like one city instead of two.”
Grounding McGrath study – http://www.massdot.state.ma.us/groundingmcgrath/Documents.aspx