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Six-lane concept to undergo environmental review

Posted by boston.com  December 24, 2013 10:00 AM

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The following was submitted by the City of Somerville:

McGrath Highway is one step closer to coming down, after the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) released a final report recommending that a six-lane boulevard design replacing the McCarthy Overpass undergo an environmental review. Separately, MassDOT has also agreed review the possibility of a four-lane option.

MassDOT presented a draft recommendation of the six-lane boulevard concept at a meeting at the Argenziano School on May 15, 2013, to solicit feedback from the public. After that meeting, the Somerville Bicycle Advisory Committee with support from the City of Somerville asked MassDOT to also consider a four-lane design that takes into account that McGrath now carries approximately the same level of vehicular traffic as Massachusetts Ave. in Boston, and that in three years, the area will have two new Green Line stations in Union Square and Brickbottom, which will divert a significant number of vehicle trips in this corridor to transit. MassDOT has subsequently agreed to undertake the additional analysis of a four-lane option, comparable to the analysis completed for the six-lane option.

“Creating a boulevard is good for our residents’ health and our economic health, and I’m pleased that the state has agreed to study a four-lane concept as well as a six-lane option, which will further the community’s goals to make Somerville the most walkable, bikeable and transit-accessible city in the nation,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone. “There is no bigger barrier to connecting our neighborhoods and unlocking our city’s potential than McGrath Highway. We’ve long dreamed of knitting back together our historic neighborhoods and reclaiming Somerville’s southern gateway through Brickbottom and Inner Belt. Bringing McGrath down will mitigate its deleterious effect on the air we breathe. It will also spur the revitalization ofe these neighborhoods and support the local businesses currently in the shadow of this eyesore relic, leftover from the days when car-centric planners viewed Somerville as a cut- through for cars on the way to Boston, and not as a City of valuable, unique neighborhoods and destinations.”

The six-lane concept includes a 10-foot wide bicycle facility running the length of McGrath Highway from Medford St. to the Cambridge line, which would also connect off Washington St. to the proposed Community Path Extension to Boston that would run parallel to the Green Line Extension. The City broke ground in May on an extension of the Community Path from its current end at Cedar St. to Lowell St., where it will meet the future Lowell St. Green Line station. The boulevard design is conceptual and the final layout would be decided through subsequent environmental permitting and design processes including public feedback.

The boulevard option strives for MassDOT’s “Complete Streets” design approach that makes roadways accessible to all forms of transportation, including walking and biking, and for all ages and abilities. The department’s GreenDOT initiative also seeks to triple the amount of walking, biking and other forms of non-automobile use, while supporting smart growth development near transit stations like the future Union Square and Washington St. Green Line stops. Traffic would improve at seven of fifteen intersections, according to MassDOT, due to refined signal timing and reduced volumes. The City of Somerville is pursuing funding for an at-grade McGrath via the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization’s regional Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

“Transforming McGrath to a ground level Boulevard will not only give back this roadway to the neighborhood, it will give us our neighborhoods themselves back,” said Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston. “When we reunite Union Square, Boynton Yards, Brickbottom and Inner Belt with a tree-lined boulevard with pedestrian-friendly crossings, world class bicycle features, and easy access to businesses currently bypassed by the overpass, it will drive the return of this area to the thriving neighborhoods and active streets that existed here before the highway and the waste transfer plant drove residents out.”

MassDOT has also begun, at the City’s request, interim improvements to McGrath that will calm traffic and improve bicycle and pedestrian safety. Those improvements include a new intersection that allows for easier pedestrian access from Medford St. to Somerville Ave.; a shortened distance across Washington St.; the first green bike markings in Somerville; and innovative bicycle improvements including bike boxes, two phased left turns and a buffered bike lane on Somerville Ave. for greater safety.

Grounding McGrath is identified in SomerVision, the City’s 20-year comprehensive plan developed over two years through an intensive community process, as one of the ways to reduce barriers to commercial growth and mixed-use development, expand the City’s commercial tax base, and revitalize and reconnect historic neighborhoods.

This past fall, the City removed one of those barriers by demolishing the former waste transfer station on the east side of McGrath. SomerVision identifies the potential for 2,600 new residential units, including 520 permanently affordable, and 6 million new square feet of commercial space accommodating 16,800 new jobs between Inner Belt and Brickbottom on the east side of McGrath and Boynton Yards and Union Square on the west side. 

Transforming those industrial districts into regionally recognized employment centers supported by open space, new homes and new businesses will help property owners around McGrath realize the full value of their land and steer development pressure away from other areas in Somerville.

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