Repairing McGrath Before Possibly Tearing it Down
MassDOT is conducting a study that could lead to tearing down McGrath Highway. But first it is spending $14 million to repair it for safety reasons.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is conducting a "Grounding McGrath" study that could lead to tearing down crumbling overpasses on the McGrath Highway in Somerville.
The study would formulate recommendations for a major redesign of the McGrath Highway, with the goal of making it a more hospitable place for pedestrians, bicycles and people in the neighborhood.
But in the immediate future, before any of that would happen, the state is spending $14 million to make short-term repairs to the existing highway.
Construction work for the repairs will likely begin next spring and take two construction seasons to complete, according to Paul King, a project manager with MassDOT's Accelerated Bridge Program. He said the roadway would remain open during repairs.
The Accelerated Bridge Program is a $3 billion initiative to repair and replace structurally deficient bridges in Massachusetts. McGrath Highway is the part of Route 28 that runs through Somerville, from the border of Cambridge near Twin City Plaza to Fellsway West and Interstate 93, near Foss Park.
Speaking Tuesday night at a "Grounding McGrath" presentation held at Somerville High School, King said the roadway, which contains a number of bridges and overpasses, is in "poor condition" and is considered structurally deficient.
An inhospitable place
As any pedestrian, bicyclist or neighbor will tell you, McGrath is also a highly inhospitable place for people who aren't in cars. Crosswalks are few and far between. Snarling traffic, speeding cars, confusing intersections, large barricades, concrete underpasses and poorly synchronized lights, among other things, make McGrath a physical barrier for people who want to cross or walk along the roadway.
Due to its poor condition, the state needs to make immediate repairs, according to King and other MassDOT representatives at Tuesday's meeting. Spending $14 million on repairs will shore up the McGrath Highway for about 10 to 15 years.
But some Somerville residents and members of the public who attended Tuesday's meeting want to see change happen much faster.
Pace of change
A few questioned the wisdom of spending $14 million to make short-term repairs to a highway many would like to see torn down. Why not just begin the redesign project directly?
After all, MassDOT's Grounding McGrath study is considering just that.
Ralph Denisco, a planner at Nelson Nygaard, which is working with MassDOT on the McGrath study, said once the study makes recommendations, it will take several years to plan, design and identify funding for a major construction project along the McGrath Highway corridor. Meanwhile, the current infrastructure needs repairs to remain safe.
Vig Krishnamurthy, a member of the public who spoke Tuesday and who is pursuing a degree in city planning and transportation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said, "Why don't we conceptualize safety differently?"
For him, "prop[ping] up some aging dinosaur" and delaying change along McGrath means the area will remain unsafe for pedestrians, bicyclists and others who must contend with the roadway for years to come.
A lynchpin project
Matt Weinstein, who is also studying planning at MIT, pointed to all the work planned for the area surrounding McGrath, including the Green Line extension and a redevelopment initiative for the Brickbottom neighborhood. All of that needs to be coordinated, "but the timelines are not going to be completely synchronized."
That's a problem, because, "Really, everything [depends] on fixing McGrath," he said.