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MassDOT Ghosts Somerville Critics At I-93 Virtual Public Meeting

Mystic Ave. in Somerville at the intersection with Temple Street, with the Interstate 93 viaduct at left.

Mystic Ave. in Somerville at the intersection with Temple Street, with the Interstate 93 viaduct at left.

Tuesday's virtual public hearing about MassDOT's proposed I-93 viaduct repair project in Somerville left numerous questions unanswered and ended early thanks to "technical issues," according to the highway agency.

As reported previously, state highway officials for fast-tracking a $37 million project to repair the I-93 viaduct above Mystic Avenue ahead of a modest $6 million safety project to repair and improve sidewalks and crosswalks on adjacent surface roadways, where reckless drivers regularly kill, maim, and threaten residents.

At a rally for safer streets last month, elected officials urged attendees to tune into Tuesday's meeting and make their appeal directly to MassDOT project managers.

Paul Stedman, District Highway Director for MassDOT, told attendees that a handful of smaller safety projects would be fast-tracked ahead of the larger $6 million safety improvement project for the area, which likely won't begin construction until 2023.

Later this summer, MassDOT plans to install a new signalized crosswalk across McGrath Highway near Blakely Avenue, where a driver killed neighborhood resident Marshall Mac earlier this year.

The agency is also designing some additional traffic-calming measures "to try and significantly reduce vehicle speeds" in the vicinity of the Kensington Underpass, where another driver killed neighborhood resident Cheryl Pauline Richards in 2019.

But those modest assurances did not mollify most attendees.

During the meeting's question-and-answer portion, MassDOT officials handled a barrage of intense and critical questioning from neighbors whose lives have been put at risk from the threats of highway air pollution and the violence of reckless driving.

Then, 100 minutes into the meeting, an electronic voice interrupted state Rep. Mike Connolly, who was advocating for better air pollution controls for East Somerville, to say "recording stopped."

MassDOT project manager Robert Antico attempted to reach the meeting's facilitator, who was handling questions from the public, but received no response.

After several awkward silences, Antico told the audience that "we might have to close the meeting... I think we've covered just about all the topics that people want us to answer."

But members of the public, who remained cut off from the meeting's audio, continued to use the chat feature to ask more questions.

Before the meeting was cut short, WalkBoston Deputy Director Brendan Kearney hastily copied that chat transcript and published it in Google Drive.

"Will you schedule a follow up meeting to get our concerns addressed? It frankly feels like MassDOT is running away from the heat," wrote an attendee named "Erin H." at 7:45 p.m.

"Damn…this looks really bad," wrote Somerville's Ward 4 City Councilor Jesse Clingan shortly afterwards.

For Ten Hills resident Melissa McCue-McGrath, the "technical difficulties" at the end of the meeting made a fitting end to a meeting where MassDOT's highway officials failed to listen to their constituents.

"The recording stopped right as things started to get heated," McCue-McGrath told StreetsblogMASS in a phone call Wednesday afternoon. "Robert (Antico) had been getting really dismissive, and basically had stopped answering questions."

"People started to realize they’re not hear to hear us," McCue-McGrath elaborated. "They’re here to say they had a meeting, but they’re not going to do anything for the people who live here and are dying here... It wasn’t that they didn’t hear us; they were just choosing not to."

MassDOT officials say that the meeting "ended early due to technical issues" and that it will schedule a second public hearing "in about two weeks" to address outstanding questions.

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