Union Square will continue to be a mess of Jersey barriers for a good five years. But after that, residents and visitors will frolic amidst a lofty European-style plaza with outdoor performances, oodles of bikes, and a convenient Green Line link to Boston. That's the takeaway from a March 1 public meeting to discuss the square's new traffic plan, said Rob May, city director of economic development.
The design, which is almost 25 percent complete, changes the landscape dramatically. Washington Street will slice straight through the square, eliminating the 7,200 square foot plaza -- festooned right now with pink plastic-wrapped Christmas trees, in summer home to a popular farmers market. In its stead, the plan creates a 34,700 square foot plaza (not a typo) a little south, surrounding the Somerville Community Access Television building. A single, limited vehicle lane remains alongside the Dunks. (Urban planning types call this a "woonerf." The Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development refined the plan from three options it presented to the public in 2009.
In addition, Webster and Prospect streets will become two-way, as will Somerville Avenue as it heads into the square past Market Basket. As for the famously busted-up pavement, "Once we tear up the roads they'll have to repave," May said dryly.
Union Square has been under construction for almost three years as part of the state's $20-plus million Somerville Avenue reconstruction project.
With budgets tight everywhere, will this project actually happen? Yes, May said, and soon: "We are of the mind that we should get as much of this done before the Green Line opens as possible." The project has multiple funding sources, including city capital bonds; the city is considering "incremental" tax increases for adjacent property owners, among other options. The state Department of Transportation, a partner in the planning, must give final approval.
Next, designers will develop specific "streetscape" features with a focus group - where to pave, where to put a performance area - and then hold another public meeting. Can you see Somervillens pedaling by in high heels carrying a bouquet of flowers yet? For more information, visit www.somervillema.gov.