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Somerville rally highlights ‘corridor of death’ as Ayanna Pressley and others demand highway justice

"This was one hundred percent preventable."

Somerville Councilor at Large Will Mbah stands with a constituent at the May 26 rally in Somerville. Boston.com / Julia Taliesin

Somerville residents and elected officials are fed up: they’ve been fighting for safety improvements along McGrath Highway and Mystic Avenue for years, and after four pedestrian fatalities, they want immediate action from MassDOT.

On May 26, a couple hundred area residents rallied in 90-degree heat to draw attention to the state’s inaction regarding road safety and environmental justice along I-93. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley joined many of Somerville’s state and local elected officials in calling out the state for not doing anything about these “preventable deaths.”

“The…reason this is so infuriating is that the lives of Kevin and Cheryl and Marshall that we were robbed of due to traffic violence — a violence that has been perpetuated by indifference, a complicit passive tolerance — so this was one hundred percent preventable,” said Pressley. “Like most inequities and disparities and injustices, they don’t just happen; they happen because of indifference. They happen because of underinvestment or divestment; they happen because of policy choices, because of budget choices.”

Rally-goers hold signs at the May 26 rally in Somerville. – Boston.com / Julia Taliesin

The rally was organized by local group Somerville Alliance for Safe Streets, which sent a letter to MassDOT officials with a few requests: accelerate improvements along McGrath/Mystic, create a Blakely Avenue crosswalk, enact traffic calming measures now, and erect sound barriers along I-93. 

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In a statement to Boston.com, a MassDOT spokesperson said MassDOT informed officials last week of its intention to expedite some elements of the McGrath Highway and Mystic Avenue project, including the Blakeley Avenue crosswalk and traffic calming measures in the area of the Kensington Connector.

“MassDOT has been working closely with the City of Somerville over the last several years on improving safety and reducing speeds in this area,” the statement read. “Although many improvements have already been implemented, MassDOT recognizes there is more work to be done. …MassDOT looks forward to discussing these plans in more detail with the community in the coming weeks.

State officials take action

Somerville Reps. Christine Barber and Mike Connolly shared how the state delegation has advocated for specific improvements to this area. 

“My community risks their lives every day to go to the grocery store or to get across the street to take the bus to school or to work,” said Barber. “Even beyond that, the hundreds of families that live on Mystic Ave. are breathing in the pollution from I-93 every day that’s greatly affecting their health. There is something we can do: the harm has been done to this community, and it can be undone.”

Somerville State Rep. Mike Connolly stands with Reps. Christine Barber and Erika Uyterhoeven at the May 26 rally in Somerville. – Boston.com / Julia Taliesin

Barber and Connolly secured millions in the 2021 transportation bond authorization bill for improvements in this area: $2 million to build sound walls along I-93 and $2 million for road safety improvements along Mystic and McGrath.

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In a process that began in early 2020, the state began developing a road improvement project for the Mystic/McGrath with about $6 million in federal funds. Connolly said they’d promised an April design meeting and construction beginning in early 2022, but it’s now been delayed a year to accommodate a $37 million I-93 viaduct reconstruction project. 

“They told me…the goal of the project is to preserve the life of the steel on the highway bridge,” Connolly said. “I immediately shot back, ‘If you’re going to preserve the life of the steel, you need to take action to preserve the lives of our constituents.”

Connolly is now advocating for MassDOT to roll in the $2 million for sound barriers into the project to ensure some things get done sooner.

Hop Mac speaks about the tragic death of his father, Marshall Mac, who was killed in a hit and run on April 12. – Boston.com / Julia Taliesin

Marshall Mac’s death was the most recent fatality: he was fatally injured in an April 12 hit and run when he was on his way home from grocery shopping. His son, Hop Mac, passionately advocated for immediate safety upgrades before another pedestrian is hit.

“When I was younger, every day he would wake me up for school and work; now every day I ask for him to wake me up from this horrible nightmare,” he said. “My dad lived in Somerville for 37 years, and he loves this community so much. He always wanted to help everyone, opening and holding doors for his neighbors with a gentle smile. When he goes to the laundromat, he’d help the employees clean while waiting for the clothes to be done. …Please, I ask that this be prioritized for the families of Somerville. That is what my dad would want.”

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