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‘Sneckdown’ At Somerville’s Most Dangerous Intersection Could Become Permanent

A Google Street View snapshot of the Fellsway in Somerville, showing a snowbank burying the rightmost lane at its intersection with Mystic Avenue.

A ‘snow neckdown’ on the Fellsway at its intersection of Mystic Avenue blocked off the right lane after a recent snowstorm. Screenshot from Google Street View.

The intersection of the Fellsway with Mystic Avenue – a site of such frequent crashes that neighbors have started referring to the roadways in the area as the "corridor of death" – received some traffic-calming from the heavens this winter, after snowstorms dumped enough snow in the area to effectively block off one of the Fellsway's three lanes approaching the intersection (see photo above, captured in Google Street View after February's storm).

It's a dramatic example of a “sneckdown,” places where snowbanks have narrowed down the roadway and forced cars to slow down considerably (a “snow neckdown”).

Now, MassDOT officials say that they'd like to make the lane reduction permanent as part of a long-planned safety project for the area that's still in the design phase.

MassDOT officials say that, under their conceptual plans, the rightmost southbound lane of Route 28 (Fellsway/McGrath Highway) approaching the intersection with Mystic Avenue (Route 38) would be converted from its current use as a shared through/right turn lane to an exclusive right-turn-only lane.

This reconfiguration would eliminate any need for a third lane on Route 28 south of the Mystic Avenue intersection (where Route 28 becomes the McGrath Highway). Instead, that third lane would be "repurposed to provide enhanced bicycle accommodations," according to a MassDOT spokesperson.

Those "enhanced bicycle accommodations" would extend from Mystic Avenue under the I-93 viaduct and along the length of Foss Park to the intersection with Broadway.

The change would also make this section of Route 28 more consistent with a planned road diet for McGrath Highway between Broadway and Third Street in Cambridge, near the Lechmere Green Line station.

MassDOT officials discussed the proposed lane reduction during last week's public hearing on a bridge replacement project that will affect another segment of Mystic Avenue near Sullivan Square.

In preliminary remarks before his presentation on the bridge project, MassDOT project manager Alwin Ramirez provided an update on promised safety projects that are in the works for Mystic Avenue and McGrath Highway in response to intense pressure from grassroots advocates and elected officials.

MassDOT says that it will resume construction this week on raised crosswalks and associated safety improvements for the Kensington Street connector, a pedestrian link where a hit-and-run driver killed Cheryl Pauline Richards in 2019.

Additional work to upgrade sidewalks and sidewalk ramps in the area to ADA-accessible standards is expected to begin later this spring, and MassDOT's planned repaving of McGrath Highway, which would implement the proposed buffered bike lanes and reduce the width of the roadway available to motor vehicles, is expected to get underway in April.

Finally, MassDOT is continuing design work on a larger capital project for this area, which would implement the lane reduction on McGrath under I-93. It's unclear when that project will go under construction; a public hearing on its latest proposed design has yet to be scheduled.

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. After a major public outcry in the summer of 2021, MassDOT officials promised to fast-track some improvements, like the upgrades to the Kensington Street crosswalks – in addition to making more ambitious changes in the longer-term safety project.

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