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Spirited Crowd Asks MassDOT to Demolish McGrath ASAP

Attendees at a community meeting debated back and forth with state transportation officials about tearing down the McGrath Highway overpass.

"I'll be dead," a woman from the back of the crowd shouted Thursday night during a community meeting about the future of the McGrath Highway, talking about when the highway's overpass might be torn down.

"For 11 million bucks, I could take it down," a man commented after a presentation given by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

Nearly 130 people, maybe more, attended Thursday's meeting about McGrath Highway, held at the , and nearly everyone in the crowd, it seemed, wanted the state to tear down the rusty old highway immediately.

Instead, MassDOT has plans to spend about $11 million in short-term repairs to the roadway while making longer-term plans to ultimately tear it down and build a street-level city boulevard in its place. (In a previous presentation, held in September, MassDOT said it would spend $14 million on those repairs.)

Not soon enough, says crowd

The short-term repairs would fix the McGrath Highway's McCarthy Overpass, which is rusty and falling apart, for about 10 to 15 years, according to MassDOT officials. The McCarthy Overpass is the elevated part of McGrath Highway that runs over Washington Street.

Meanwhile, the transportation department would move forward with plans to design, acquire permits and construct the street-level replacement.

The bone of contention for most in the crowd was that 10 years isn't soon enough.

"We are as committed as the community is to taking down the overpass," said Frank DePaola, highway administrator with MassDOT. But, DePaola explained, the highway is on the verge of becoming unsafe, so the state needs to make repairs while it studies what to do next with the roadway.

Ethan Britland, a project manager with MassDOT, delivered a presentation that said it would be approximately 10 years before a new street-level roadway could be ready to replace the overpass: four to five years to conduct a preliminary design and acquire permits for a new roadway, another two to three years to make a final design, and then another three years to construct a new roadway.

People in the crowd were unwilling to accept that timeline.

"You really need to accelerate this process," said Steven Nutter of LivableStreets. "Eight to ten years is way too long."

What constitutes unsafe?

Anyone who's driven under, near or on the overpass has seen the rust, chipped concrete and cracked road surface.

Farhad Panthaki, a project manager with TranSystems, said if the overpass isn't repaired soon, it would dimish the amount of load it could carry. If it's diminished enough, the state would have to "post" the roadway as unsafe for certain trucks. "The rating of the structure today will need a posting if repairs are not conducted," he said.

Most of the crowd seemed pleased at the idea that trucks wouldn't be able to use the overpass. 

Steve McLaughlin, the MassDOT project manager who's overseeing the repair contract, said later in the meeting, "If we don't proceed with this [repair] contract, the bridge will immediatedly be posted."

This drew an applause from the crowd.

"The bridge will be closed," he said.

More applause.

Comments from public officials

Several public officials also spoke out against the highway.

"It's obsolete. It contributes nothing to the city," said State Rep. Timothy Toomey. "I think we're all in agreement. How do we get there? That's the question," he said.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone called the highway a "dilapidated albatross" and said, "Take the overpass down. Take it down yesterday." He also spoke of the need to make sure the current overpass is safe.

Somerville Alderman At-Large William White said, "It serves no purpose. Take it down. Please, take it down.

State Rep. Denise Provost said, "There's a lot of agreement in that what we need is for McGrath to come down and become a street-grade urban boulevard."

Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston said, "I will be advocating for a much faster timeline, because we've been waiting too long. The city has been waiting too long." 

State Senator Patricia Jehlen and State Rep. Carl Sciortino also spoke

No funding

A significant hurdle to any plans is funding.

"We certainly don't have a funding source for the ultimate solution," which is to tear the highway down, said DePaola.

Jehlen said there's very little will on Beacon Hill to support transportation infrastructure, which she said is a broader problem.

"We need the revenue, and we need your support," she said. "If we don't have the money, it won't happen."

More on McGrath Highway

Matt Carter June 02, 2012 at 05:35 PM
You people want to know the difference is. Over $53 Million has been appropriated for that project. Not $10 Million. If you people think they can demolish the bridge structure and build a ground boulevard for $10 Million than you people are living in a dream. This project will require at least $20-40 Million. This is no small task.
Rob Buchanan June 02, 2012 at 07:49 PM
I don't think anyone is suggesting that what is being accomplished for the Casey overpass can be accomplished for McGrath at a cost of $10 million. I think the concern being raised is that the Casey project appears to be on a ~5 year time frame from planning to completion, whereas MassDOT officials are saying that it will take 10+ years for McGrath, irrespective of the availability of funding (which I agree, would need to be identified). People want to know why we just don't use the $10 million planned for the band-aid repairs to McGrath and use it as a 'down-payment' toward the cost of removal and construction of a surface road. Sooner or later, a permanent solution to McGrath's unsafe condition has to be found. A surface option will be cheaper. Razing the Casey Overpass and transforming the area below into a surface street is projected to cost $53 million. A replacement bridge was estimated to cost $74 million.
Warren Dew June 03, 2012 at 03:52 AM
Mass Ave. in Boston is a disaster. McGrath should stay a highway in order to retain rapid access from Somerville to Cambridge and Boston. It doesn't need to be elevated, but filling it with traffic lights will only drive commuters to the suburbs, and ultimate hurt Somerville through the loss of property values and taxes.
mplo June 07, 2012 at 07:46 PM
The McGrath Highway overpass needs to come down...now, and to be replaced by a safer, user-friendly on the ground boulevard, which connects all of Somerville, instead of cutting off a third of Somerville from the rest of the community, which is precisely what the McGrath overpass. That overpass is in really horrible shape, as anybody who may have walked underneath it may have noticed. It's only a matter of time before that overpass suddenly collapses, like that bridge in Minneapolis did not so long ago. Thirdly, as a woman, I don't feel particularly safe walking under that overpass at night. One never knows who may be lurking under there at night waiting for somebody to hassle, or whatever. MassDot is just pulling rank when they say that the best thing to do is to repair the bridge. I say they're wrong. The solution is to demolish that overpass, depress McGrath highway, and make it user friendly for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers alike.
terry mase July 28, 2012 at 01:27 AM
Air pollution, air pollution, air pollution. Why is car exhaust at ankle level, dense stalling or flowing traffic at shoulder height and surround-sound din of engines better around us, than raised high above us? Somebody PLEASE address this! Terry Mase, neighbor

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