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State calls for McGrath Highway to be torn down, replaced with boulevard

Posted by Jarret Bencks  May 16, 2013 12:36 PM

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The state's Department of Transportation is recommending an elevated portion of McGrath Highway in Somerville be torn down and rebuilt at street level.

In a public meeting Wednesday, planners outlined a proposed "boulevard" style reconstruction of the McCarthy Overpass, a rusted relic of 1950s urban highway design that carries McGrath over several cross streets, starting north at Medford Street, and ending south at the intersection of Somerville Ave. and Medford Street.

The boulevard redevelopment would create new cross-street traffic intersections with crosswalks for pedestrians. Bike lanes and sidewalks would be added along the highway.

Ralph Denisco, a planner at Nelson/Nygaard, the company commissioned with studying the roadway, said the proposed plan would slow traffic along the highway, and increase the length of traffic to get onto it. It would also make the highway more accessible for pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transportation, he said.

The plan would help reconnect East Somerville with the Union Square area through the inner belt and Brickbottom sections of the city, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said.

"They are neighborhoods of the past that we want to bring back," he said. "...There is no bigger barrier in East Somerville and perhaps this entire city, than McGrath Highway."

Analysis using data-driven models, as well as a review by a working group tasked with reviewing the overpass, found the boulevard development to be the best option among four that were considered.

Others would have created an access road that would run parallel with the highway to reduce intersections, or called for a rotary at the intersection of the highway with Somerville Avenue and Medford Street. Under that plan, there would be no left turns off the highway at cross streets, and traffic looking to make a left turn would have to go to the rotary and turn around. Another option, provided by the city, called for a boulevard development along with a east-west connecting road built through the inner belt area.

The studies found the boulevard option to be the most "complete streets" option, meaning it would be the development most beneficial to all modes of transportation, Denisco said.

Some residents voiced their concern that the redevelopment still may be envisioned as more of a highway project than a neighborhood one.

"It looks like we're putting the VFW parkway through Somerville, I don't want to see that," said Robert Buchanan, a Walnut Street resident.

Carice Reddien of East Cambridge said she hoped planners would consider pedestrians and bicycles more as planning begins in more detail.

"I see a freeway design on the ground," she said.

There is no projected date when the highway will be taken down, said Frank DePaola, the state's highway administrator.

"We have many more meetings and many more years to go before we see the overpass come down," he said.

Maryann Heuston, the alderwoman for Ward 2 in Somerville, said she was pleased to know the highway would be coming down, even if it would be well into the future.

"I see just the very first step, we have a long way to go," she said. "The most exciting thing for me is that at some point in my lifetime I will not be looking at that monster that's there."

Jarret Bencks can be reached at Follow him on twitter @JarretBencks.

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