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MassDOT Prioritizing Highway Project Before Safety Fixes At Somerville’s Most Deadly Intersection

Walking from one side of McGrath Highway to the other along Mystic Avenue requires pedestrians to cross multiple highway ramps and and along a "sidewalk" in the middle of the highway.

Walking from one side of McGrath Highway to the other along Mystic Avenue requires pedestrians to cross multiple highway ramps and and along a “sidewalk” in the middle of the highway.

Elected officials and advocates in Somerville are putting intense pressure on state highway officials for fast-tracking a $37 million project to repair the Interstate 93 viaduct ahead of a modest $6 million safety project for nearby surface roadways where reckless drivers regularly kill and maim local residents.

At the May 17 virtual meeting of Somerville's Traffic and Parking Committee, MassDOT officials shared a brief presentation on their plans to repair the steel structure and replace bridge joints on the I-93 viaduct above the junction of the Fellsway, McGrath Highway, and Mystic Avenue in East Somerville (an area also known as the 28/38 intersection, after the roadways' state highway numbers).

MassDOT hopes to start construction on the viaduct repairs by December of this year. The project has a $37 million budget, and construction would last about three years.

Meanwhile, Somerville residents are still waiting for MassDOT to start a long-awaited and under-funded project to address serious safety hazards on the roadways beneath the viaduct, which is Somerville's most dangerous area for traffic crashes.

In July 2019, a motorist on Mystic Avenue killed Cheryl Pauline Richards, 52, of Somerville, as she was using the crosswalk on Mystic Avenue at the Kensington underpass.

A month later, another hit-and-run driver killed Kevin Dumont, 68, in a Mystic Avenue crosswalk at Shore Road.

This April, another hit-and-run driver struck Marshall Mac, a 72-year-old Vietnam War veteran, on McGrath Highway near Foss Park. Mac died of his injuries earlier this month.

MassDOT has been designing a separate project that aims to improve safety – particularly for pedestrians – at the sprawling 28/38 intersection.

Early plans for the safety improvement project, first reported here in early 2020, would have provided basic accessibility upgrades to sidewalks and crosswalks, but generally avoided major changes to the roadways.

Those designs have been evolving, however. At a virtual design public meeting in December, MassDOT presented newer plans that showed new crosswalks and sidewalks, more traffic calming, some physically separated bike lanes at high-risk junctions, and a new shared-use path under I-93.

According to the MassDOT project database, that project has a budget of less than $6 million – less than one-sixth the cost of the viaduct repair.

At last week's Traffic and Parking Committee meeting, various Somerville city councilors, state Rep. Mike Connolly, and state Rep. Christine Barber all asked MassDOT to prioritize the safety improvement projects.

They also urged MassDOT to include the installation of sound barriers into the $37 million viaduct project to help protect East Somerville residents from the interstate highway's intense noise and air pollution.

"When I see that the goal of this project is to preserve the useful life of the viaduct, my response is that any project that seeks to preserve the life of the highway steel has to take action to preserve the life of our constituents," Rep. Connolly told MassDOT officials at that meeting.

A number of the same elected officials also phoned into Monday's joint MassDOT and MBTA board meeting to request additional funding in the state's next capital improvements budget for noise barriers and the safety improvement projects for the area.

"My district in East Somerville has borne the brunt of I-93 cutting though it," Rep. Barber told the MassDOT board on Monday. "I am asking that MassDOT include $2 million from the last transportation bond bill for improvements to the Route 28/38 corridor... to speed up some desperately-needed safety improvements in an area where three pedestrians have been killed in the past two years.

Somerville residents are also bringing pressure at the grassroots level. A new organization, the Somerville Alliance for Safe Streets, is hosting a rally tomorrow in what they call "Somerville's Corridor of Death" to urge MassDOT to act with more urgency.

Elected officials, including Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, are expected to be among the speakers. The rain-or-shine event is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at the corner of Broadway and McGrath Highway, across from Foss Park.

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