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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. 

Immediate repairs

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

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 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.

Amy September 22, 2011 at 04:20 PM
Definitely tear it down!
mark September 28, 2011 at 07:02 PM
The current study should incorporate all the steps needed to tear this down if it's feasible. The problem is that they are spending $14 million to do repairs that would last 15 years-- which means the road will never come down. Meanwhile in Jamaica Plain they are doing a study that could result in their overpass being taken down in the next few years. Essentially Somerville is getting the raw end of the deal. The funding to fix McGrath is available until 2016... the City should require that the state hold off on the short term repairs and do all the permitting to get the best possible project. According to the MassDoT project manager they are not even looking at improving transit, walking, or biking as part of the current repairs. Even more reason to wait.
rosehudson May 31, 2012 at 12:17 PM
I think instead of repairing it should be removed because repairing will only provide temporary solution. http://www.positivepest.com
Ron Newman May 31, 2012 at 12:43 PM
I don't see what your link has to do with the topic of this article.
Warren Dew June 03, 2012 at 04:01 AM
People advocating this solution should think first. Tearing it down without replacing it with anything would be the worst possible solution for Somerville. And currently, the funding doesn't exist to replace it with something better.
mplo June 07, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Oh, come off of it! Spending 14 million bucks for short term repairs before tearing down the McGrath-Obrien hwy overpass? What a load of baloney! Spending that kind of money on short-term repairs isn't the solution. Tearing it down and replacing a crumbling, unsafe underpass with a user-friendly, safer, ground boulevard is. Why doesn't MassDot listen to the community at large, instead of always being into its own agenda all the time? It's high time that they did, particularly since highway overpasses are coming down throughout the country, and the Boston area, generally.
mplo June 07, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Repairing the bridge a temporary solution? It's not a solution at all!
mplo June 07, 2012 at 07:55 PM
That's because MassDot is all too anxious to use Somerville as a dumping ground for the problems that other people don't want. Why should Somerville become a such a dumping ground. Somerville residents deserve fair treatment like everybody else, and have a right not to have their city always be a dumping ground for the problems that other people don't want.
mplo June 07, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Tearing the McGrath overpass down and depressing the McGrath Highway is perfectly feasible. Come on now!
mplo June 07, 2012 at 07:58 PM
I agree, Amy! Warren: Depressing the McGrath highway and replacing it with a safer, more user-friendly boulevard, for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers alike is the best way to go about it, and it's even cheaper than building another bridge. Have you ever walked under the McGrath Overpass? It's in horrible shape, and it's only a matter of time before it suddenly collapses, like the bridge in Minneapolis, MN did not that long ago.
Warren Dew June 07, 2012 at 11:53 PM
mplo, an at grade boulevard is by definition less motorist friendly, because it would involve traffic lights where there are none now. To a two way commute, it would add half an hour to an hour per day. And there are a heck of a lot more Somerville residents who use McGrath to commute than who use it to bicycle or walk. An immediate teardown is basically telling people in Somerville who actually work and have to drive to get there that they are not welcome. Do that, and watch the tax base collapse as people move out.
mplo June 08, 2012 at 11:36 AM
Warren--I disagree with you! The McGrath overpass actually cuts 1/3 of Somerville off from the rest of the city, plus, it's virtually impossible to cross the highway, the way things are now. As someone who resides in a part of the city that is cut off by the McGrath overpass, I believe that depressing the overpass and making it into a flat boulevard would be far more feasible. It's not safe to walk or bicycle underneath that overpass, for example. The cramped, confusing intersections, poorly-synchronized traffic lights, and the traffic gridlocks these things have caused make for a very unsafe environment. Plus, have you ever walked under that overpass? Not only is it in horrible shape, but, as a woman, I don't feel particularly safe walking under the overpass, especially the tunnel section of it (albeit known as the "scary way") at sundown, let alone at night.
mplo June 08, 2012 at 11:48 AM
Warren, as things are now, the vehicular traffic in the vicinity of the overpass is really horrible. The lights are poorly synchronized, which causes almost constant gridlocks under that overpass, particularly during the morning and late-afternoon/evening rush-hours, making it unsafe to walk or bicycle in that area. People run red lights all the time in the vicinity of the McGrath highway and Linwood street, making it a dangerous situation. The poorly-designed intersections and bottlenecks in the area really don't help, plus we really are cut off from public transportation, which is a big problem. People should be able to walk or bike in safety. Plus, a flat boulevard would speed up the motor traffic, not jam it up more.
Warren Dew June 08, 2012 at 02:06 PM
mplo, you're only thinking about the traffic across McGrath, not the traffic along McGrath that stays on the bridge. Bringing McGrath down to grade level will make the traffic situation worse because in addition to the existing cross McGrath traffic, all the traffic along McGrath will be added to the mix. That will more than double the traffic going through the intersections, more than doubling the congestion. If anything, east Somervill will be even more cut off than it is now. Yes, I've walked under McGrath. Yes, it's ugly, and there are lots of shadows that can make you feel unsafe, even in the daytime. The solution to that isn't to make things worse for the people who use the bridge, though. The solution is to make it less ugly, and make it more safe. And if the cross traffic patterns are bad - of which I'm not convinced, and I drive through there all the time - that can be fixed too. For example, most of the area under the bridge could be turned into a grassy embankment. There's room for large tunnels for pedestrians, bicyclists, and traffic. A large, straight, well lit tunnel would eliminate the shadows where a lurker could hide. Or, depressing McGrath to below grade level and putting the cross traffic on top would work too. Those are solutions that would fix things for the people complaining, while not messing things up for the people who commute on McGrath, and are the kinds of solutions the DOT needs extra time to design.
Frank Mulligan July 17, 2012 at 04:52 PM
It will cost more to tear down and rebuild. So redo it. It will be FEDERAL &&&. Take a picture before and after. Let the public see it.

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