MassDOT: Replace McGrath Highaway With a Boulevard

Th Massachusetts Department of Transportation has released a final report about Somerville's McGrath Highway.

Credit: Chris Orchard
Credit: Chris Orchard
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation recommends tearing down McGrath Highway and replacing it with a six-lane ground-level boulevard.

That's according to a draft of the final version of a report called, "Grounding McGrath: Determining the Future of the Route 28 Corridor Study."

The report is the result of more than two years of study by MassDOT and the Grounding McGrath working group, composed of elected officials, local advocates, designers and various state and local officials.

The report, which you can find here, studied various alternatives for the future of McGrath Highway, including leaving it as is, building a roadway with rotaries and U-turn traffic features, building a main thoroughfare with access roads for local traffic, and building a boulevard.

The report says replacing the McGrath Highway, a rusty elevated roadway, with a boulevard would have a number of benefits, including the following: 

  • It would contribute to a Complete Streets design that would benefit pedestrians, bikes and cars
  • It would improve traffic at some intersections
  • It would improve the urban environment for the neighboring communities
  • It would enhance pedestrian access
The report also says that, although it would be initially more expensive than leaving McGrath Highway untouched, within 50 years it would be less expensive than maintaining the current elevated roadway.

The recommended boulevard would have three lanes in each direction and traffic lights and major intersections. It would have parkland bordering the boulevard and a planted median.

Implementing this plan would take time—years—and would require Somerville and the state to secure funding through the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization's Regional Transportation Plan.

The public has 30 days—until Jan. 7, 2014—to comment on the draft version of the final report.

To comment, write to ethan.britland@state.ma.us or send a letter to:

Massachusetts Department of Transportation
Office of Transportation Planning
Re: Grounding McGrath Study Comments
10 Park Plaza, Suite 4150
Boston, MA 02116
Southpaw December 09, 2013 at 03:21 PM
Where's the money coming from? Nothing is mentioned above. Tax hikes? What? I'm sure a lot of people are wondering. I would be if I lived there.
Chris Orchard (Editor) December 09, 2013 at 03:45 PM
Hi Southpaw. Sorry if it wasn't clear. The project would need to secure funding -- much of it federal funding I suspect. There's a process for doing so that involves including the project on the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization's Regional Transportation Plan, which includes a list of transportation projects seeking funding. But you're right in that no funding has been earmarked at this point.
Ken Long December 10, 2013 at 09:34 AM
This is a great idea that has been mentioned many times when discussing the current work being done on the highway.
Spencer Sherman December 10, 2013 at 10:24 AM
Great idea, thanks to all the tireless advocates for helping reshape this project. And thanks to MassDOT for engaging the community as well. I cross the highway twice a day to get to work, often on foot or by bus. I would like to see the boulevard plan support only 4 lanes of traffic, not 6. McGrath should accommodate the walkers, bikers, and people in the community who actually live by it, not people travelling through Somerville to get to Boston. From 2010-2012, car ownership has decreased 18% in Somerville (source: http://www.boston.com/yourtown/specials/snapshot/snapshot_massachusetts_cars_per_resident_2010/ and http://www.boston.com/yourtown/specials/snapshot/massachusetts_snapshot_cars_2012/) and our infrastructure investments need to reflect this trend.
Steve Meuse December 10, 2013 at 12:36 PM
A planted median could be nice, but how will they guarantee it won't end up looking like Revere Beach Pkwy in Everett with its sickly trees and weeds? And what's with those renderings? They show a ton of new parkland along the roadway, but how will the existing businesses and homes along the street access their properties? An access road or driveways will severely reduce the amount of new parkland.
blujay December 10, 2013 at 02:53 PM
so we're spending huge funds currently to repair the elevated highway just to tear it down and rebuild it at ground level in the near future. what a colossal waste of resources. this design creates an extra lane (parking lot) of commuters sitting in morning traffic, waiting to get into Boston. more lanes does not mean they will enter Boston any quicker, but they will be spitting out 1/3 more pollution into the local neighborhood and all at ground level instead of it's current higher elevation, all while they're sitting in rush hour gridlock. i'm sure this will benefit the contractors winning the bids, but how on earth does it benefit the local residents who have to breathe, live, walk, in this neighborhood.
MEB December 12, 2013 at 11:35 AM
I'm wondering if the scenario created by putting McGrath Highway at grade and a shutdown of 93 through the city has been contemplated. Access to Boston would be changed dramatically. It's not hard to conceive of an event that might force 93 to be closed temporarily, and I'm afraid of crippling traffic jams on one of the few alternate routes.
Charlie Denison December 18, 2013 at 06:58 PM
At the public meeting that MassDOT held, they explained that the renderings shown by this plan are very preliminary. The green just marks new space opened up by making the roadway smaller. This space could be used for parks and/or new development. Also, there is room in the right-of-way for cycle tracks, bike lanes, or a separate bike path. MassDOT said there are many options to consider. The main purposes of the study in their eyes were to (a) see if an at-grade solution would work at all and (b) big-picture, figure out what kind of configuration would that be. Unfortunately, they did put most of the focus on automobile traffic throughput, which is why there are 6 lanes and the bike facilities are still TBD. But the good news is MassDOT wants the overpass to come down in the long term, and they have agreed to submit a 4-lane option in their environmental review documents in addition to the 6-lane option proposed here.
AHM December 18, 2013 at 07:50 PM
Charlie, you are probably too young to know what it was like before this was built. But this solved a good deal of the problems with traffic. Okay, I know it's ugly and nobody wants it but this is an important highway. One example is many people are rushed into the Boston hospitals dailey. We really need to have it usuable for that as this is a life saving issue. The traffic problems created by not having the overhead left the streets leading into McGrath backed up for miles. Maybe they will come up with an answer, I hope so. But if you saw it then and now this is such a great improvement. For me this no longer matters as I have no need to go in that area anymore.
blujay December 18, 2013 at 11:35 PM
i still don't understand the push to level this highway. it will only re-create all the traffic problems that it was built to alleviate.
jdh0625 December 19, 2013 at 10:11 AM
AHM, I would think that the upcoming Green Line extension will take a considerable amount of pressure off the corridor, considering traffic studies have found that much of the McGrath traffic originates from Somerville. And this is on top of the 15% reduction in traffic that has occurred over the past decade. As for the ambulances, flipping on the sirens and proceeding through at-grade intersections at Washington St and Somerville Ave will be marginally slower than what exists now, but we're talking about what -- a 1 minute difference? The McGrath corridor pre-dates I-93, and the latter's presence obsoletes the need to use the McGrath corridor as a major highway. Let's keep in mind that the most drastic proposal would reduce it to a two-lanes-each-way scenario. It's not like it's being turned into a pedestrian mall.
blujay December 19, 2013 at 12:34 PM
That's a nice theory but not reality. That maybe during non-rush hour traffic but so many people use McGrath Highway to avoid the traffic on I-93 during rush hour that it is a parking lot mornings and evenings.
Steve Meuse December 19, 2013 at 02:55 PM
@blujay Then one of the aims of the project should be to deter interstate highway traffic from wanting to use this parkway as a shortcut. This could be accomplished by scaling it down to be a residential connector roadway as opposed to a 6 lane freeway through Somerville. The road should be designed to serve the needs of the residents living in the area, not the entire region who might opt to use it to shave a few minutes off their commute. Grounding it will definitely slow it down and make it less desirable for cut through traffic, but this doesn't necessarily mean it will lead to slow downs because of increased traffic back-ups.
genedebs1 December 20, 2013 at 09:36 AM
Steve..this is right on...The leveling of overpass should also be seen in the context of what is happening up and down along the "spine" of McGrath. The hope someday is that McGrath will become part of a beautiful boulevard that will lend itself to many other uses and also create a better walking, working and living involvement. Like so many on this thread..I feel terrible that so much is being put into stablizing this structure. I wish that could have been different...but I understand that engineers and urban designers don't wake up one morning and decide to level a structure. It takes a bit of planning..the good part here is that DOT heard the calls to take this road down to grade..and then lets watch this whole area blossom. I should also note..as someone who worked on the CAFEH study...having this road down at grade and beginning to slow it down a bit and shift its use will really help with the air quality that had been so compromised here in Somerville.
AHM December 20, 2013 at 06:53 PM
jdh0625 I disagree on the ambulance thing if this goes back close to what it was before the structure. The traffic was such that it was back up to Sullivan screwing that up and the same with Union square and soem times as far as Porter. They can put on their siriens but if there is no place to go then there could be serious problems here. It's going to be 15 to 20 years before this gets done anyway so wno knows what things will be like by then. I am only looking at it before it was built and afterwards. It still is a "highway". If we go back to having traffic sitting there running their cars all day this is not good for air quality.
mplo December 28, 2013 at 12:01 PM
The McGrath overpass is a byzantine structure that should've been torn down quite awhile ago, and made into a boulevard, for safer walking and bicycling environments, as well as to unite the City of Somerville together, and make it safer to walk at night. Traffic would not necessarily be stalled unnecessarily at rush hour. I think that people are just making excuses to keep this run-down overpass up. The concrete of the McGrath overpass has lost its integrity and should not be propped up by the state's spending 11 million dollars for a wasted, unnecessary repair.
Steve Meuse December 28, 2013 at 12:58 PM
It was a little before my time, but the Rt 99 overpass that they took down a decade ago- wasn't that a similar situation? Did they put millions into that while deciding what to do? I thought they just decided it was dangerous and took it down without any second thought. If I had to compare the two, I would say that taking the Rt 99 overpass down caused more traffic implications (at the rotary for example) than grounding the McGrath would for its surrounding area.
Steve Meuse December 28, 2013 at 01:04 PM
*Sullivan Square Viaduct


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