"I'll be dead," a woman from the back of the crowd shouted Thursday night during a community meeting about the future of the McGrath Highway, talking about when the highway's overpass might be torn down.
"For 11 million bucks, I could take it down," a man commented after a presentation given by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
Nearly 130 people, maybe more, attended Thursday's meeting about McGrath Highway, held at the , and nearly everyone in the crowd, it seemed, wanted the state to tear down the rusty old highway immediately.
Instead, MassDOT has plans to spend about $11 million in short-term repairs to the roadway while making longer-term plans to ultimately tear it down and build a street-level city boulevard in its place. (In a previous presentation, held in September, MassDOT said it would spend $14 million on those repairs.)
Not soon enough, says crowd
The short-term repairs would fix the McGrath Highway's McCarthy Overpass, which is rusty and falling apart, for about 10 to 15 years, according to MassDOT officials. The McCarthy Overpass is the elevated part of McGrath Highway that runs over Washington Street.
Meanwhile, the transportation department would move forward with plans to design, acquire permits and construct the street-level replacement.
The bone of contention for most in the crowd was that 10 years isn't soon enough.
"We are as committed as the community is to taking down the overpass," said Frank DePaola, highway administrator with MassDOT. But, DePaola explained, the highway is on the verge of becoming unsafe, so the state needs to make repairs while it studies what to do next with the roadway.
Ethan Britland, a project manager with MassDOT, delivered a presentation that said it would be approximately 10 years before a new street-level roadway could be ready to replace the overpass: four to five years to conduct a preliminary design and acquire permits for a new roadway, another two to three years to make a final design, and then another three years to construct a new roadway.
People in the crowd were unwilling to accept that timeline.
"You really need to accelerate this process," said Steven Nutter of LivableStreets. "Eight to ten years is way too long."
What constitutes unsafe?
Anyone who's driven under, near or on the overpass has seen the rust, chipped concrete and cracked road surface.
Farhad Panthaki, a project manager with TranSystems, said if the overpass isn't repaired soon, it would dimish the amount of load it could carry. If it's diminished enough, the state would have to "post" the roadway as unsafe for certain trucks. "The rating of the structure today will need a posting if repairs are not conducted," he said.
Most of the crowd seemed pleased at the idea that trucks wouldn't be able to use the overpass.
Steve McLaughlin, the MassDOT project manager who's overseeing the repair contract, said later in the meeting, "If we don't proceed with this [repair] contract, the bridge will immediatedly be posted."
This drew an applause from the crowd.
"The bridge will be closed," he said.
Comments from public officials
Several public officials also spoke out against the highway.
"It's obsolete. It contributes nothing to the city," said State Rep. Timothy Toomey. "I think we're all in agreement. How do we get there? That's the question," he said.
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone called the highway a "dilapidated albatross" and said, "Take the overpass down. Take it down yesterday." He also spoke of the need to make sure the current overpass is safe.
Somerville Alderman At-Large William White said, "It serves no purpose. Take it down. Please, take it down.
State Rep. Denise Provost said, "There's a lot of agreement in that what we need is for McGrath to come down and become a street-grade urban boulevard."
Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston said, "I will be advocating for a much faster timeline, because we've been waiting too long. The city has been waiting too long."
State Senator Patricia Jehlen and State Rep. Carl Sciortino also spoke
A significant hurdle to any plans is funding.
"We certainly don't have a funding source for the ultimate solution," which is to tear the highway down, said DePaola.
Jehlen said there's very little will on Beacon Hill to support transportation infrastructure, which she said is a broader problem.
"We need the revenue, and we need your support," she said. "If we don't have the money, it won't happen."