STEP letter on McGrath overpass repair and de-elevation

Sent to the Board of Directors of MassDOT
As residents of Somerville advocating for good transportation for our city and the region, we are writing to express our dismay over the rush to repair the McCarthy Overpass on the McGrath Highway. It was with frustration and incredulity that we just recently heard of the decision by MassDOT to rush to repair the Overpass despite the strong objections of residents of Somerville and Cambridge. The fact that there was no public involvement with the community with Mass DOT about the impact of the repairs on travel in the area is completely unacceptable especially when compared to the significant community engagement that took place when the same roadway was closed for repairs at the Museum of Science and for the traffic restrictions due to repairs on the Longfellow Bridge.

We are requesting the MassDOT Board of Directors to hold off the Notice to Proceed on this project until representatives of the community have an opportunity to present our concerns at the next Board meeting or at a special meeting. Moving ahead with this expensive project to “temporarily” repair the structure that everyone wants removed is costing $10.9 million taxpayer dollars that should be spent to maintain the MBTA system and fix bridges and roads needing permanent repair.
MassDOT has stated that the repair is needed for safety reasons to accommodate trucks on the overpass, but they have not presented their structural assessment of the overpass to the community because there has been no community engagement about this project. No consideration of alternatives such as having lane restrictions for trucks which could be sufficient has been raised.
There is modest truck traffic on the overpass so we believe that the traffic impact is being exaggerated. Our analysis of daily traffic counts for the overpass (as of 2004) is roughly 25,000 per year. Interestingly, right before the overpass begins (where McGrath & Medford Streets are united) the traffic count is close to 50,000, suggesting that most of the flow off McGrath is exiting at Washington Street (13,600 vehicles per day) with 7,000 vehicles exiting at Medford St. Most trucks coming from I-93 and Inner Belt does not use the overpass. Rather, trucks travel along Washington St. into Union Square, north on McGrath (past the overpass) or along Medford Street to go through Cambridge or enter McGrath south of the overpass.
MassDOT has changed its initial plan to spend $22 million to repair the overpass (with completion in 2014) to a contract for $10.9 million. There has only been one brief presentation on the proposed repairs at a meeting on the “McCarthy Overpass de-elevation study”. At that meeting many people voiced opposition to the repair plans yet MassDOT did not communicate further with the community about the impact and goals of the project. This lack of community engagement over this project is completely unacceptable because of Somerville residents’ consistent opposition to repairing the structure in favor of moving quickly to replace it with an at-grade roadway.
Further, by moving quickly to de-elevation, major safety, pedestrian and bicycle access improvements will occur sooner. Somerville residents are very mindful that in a period of serious economic constraints the likelihood of actually moving the de-elevation project forward once the bridge repairs are completed is more than doubtful. We are very encouraged by the de-elevation design work but we do not want this to be yet another planning project that goes on the DOT shelves for years to come.
We are also concerned about the safety of the structure, but we do not feel that options such as weight restrictions have been sufficiently evaluated as an alternative to repairing the structure. If MASSDOT is strongly driven to spend money on repair, we would support exploring the removal of the southbound ramp to Somerville Avenue that is an extremely dangerous intersection.
Our city has been overburdened with transportation infrastructure for over a century. The McGrath O’Brien Highway is a wall separating East Somerville from the rest of the city, and continues to be a barrier to economic development. This arterial was constructed prior to I-93 with absolutely no consideration given to how the highway impacted the community. New approaches through context sensitive design can accommodate pedestrians and cyclists and can also unify the eastern and western parts of the Somerville, improving the quality of life and promoting economic growth.
Just as Jamaica Plan residents advocated for removal of the Casey Overpass through their neighborhood, Somerville residents want an at-grade solution for the McCarthy Overpass now.
Ellin Reisner, President
Denise Provost
State Representative
Steven Nutter
Livable Streets Alliance
Alan Moore
Friends of the Community Path
Heather Van Aelst
Brickbottom Condominium Trust