Grounding the McGrath

ra84970

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Other than the City of Somerville event from 2019, anyone heard anything recently about this project? The Mass.gov webpage is broken and I'm struggling to see if anyone has saved the reports anywhere else.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Other than the City of Somerville event from 2019, anyone heard anything recently about this project? The Mass.gov webpage is broken and I'm struggling to see if anyone has saved the reports anywhere else.
Still white-hot advocacy with Somerville, so blame COVID on the lack of accumulated meetings. They've shut down way harder than most Metro Boston municipalities, so these are not the only meetings of note that have experienced a hard cutoff there in 2020.

MassDOT always has to be poked with a stick to say boo about this one or its (squishy) commitments therein. But they will be poked...firmly and often...next year when Somerville unlocks and most of the intense-most GLX construction they've been logistically concerned with in the overlap Washington St.-Gilman project area wraps and moves its main activity further outbound. The whole 'vision thing' debate over making the East Somerville stop a destination unto itself hinges on boulevarding that eyesore half a block from the entrance. It's going to reach fever pitch very very quickly.
 

kjdonovan

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From a new nonprofit news source called the Somerville Wire:

Jonathan Gulliver, highway administrator for MassDOT, revealed in a letter written on April 7 that for an upcoming maintenance resurfacing and safety project for McGrath Highway, there will be physical separations blocking bike paths from the automobile roadways. The McGrath Highway Resurfacing Project will reduce the number of automobile lanes from six to four and include the bike paths. Rep. Mike Connolly and others had been advocating for the separations for some time.

The barriers are expected to be installed in fall 2022, according to the letter. The project also includes repairs and upgrades to fix the damaged and missing bridge railings and sidewalks. The northbound ramp from Washington Street to McGrath Highway will become a single lane that includes a buffered bike lane. To the south, the design includes bike facility connections coordinated with the Cambridge Crossing and other developments close to the highway. To the north, the bike lanes will continue and connect with the Kensington Connector, as part of the Route 28/Route 38 Safety Improvement Project.

 

Charlie_mta

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From a new nonprofit news source called the Somerville Wire:

Jonathan Gulliver, highway administrator for MassDOT, revealed in a letter written on April 7 that for an upcoming maintenance resurfacing and safety project for McGrath Highway, there will be physical separations blocking bike paths from the automobile roadways. The McGrath Highway Resurfacing Project will reduce the number of automobile lanes from six to four and include the bike paths. Rep. Mike Connolly and others had been advocating for the separations for some time.
Nice start, but MassDOT still needs to remove the elevated roads and boulevardlize the route with proper bike paths, road diets, walkways and landscaping. That's an obvious no-brainer from a city planning perspective but it never seems to gain much traction at MassDOT.
 

Stlin

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Nice start, but MassDOT still needs to remove the elevated roads and boulevardlize the route with proper bike paths, road diets, walkways and landscaping. That's an obvious no-brainer from a city planning perspective but it never seems to gain much traction at MassDOT.
I think the phrase "maintenance resurfacing and safety project" is key here; this is being slipped in as a minor maintenance project that will still have huge quality of life benefits, as opposed to the hundred million dollar grounding. That's still probably 10+ years away in just planning, EIS, and design, let alone funding.
 

Charlie_mta

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I think the phrase "maintenance resurfacing and safety project" is key here; this is being slipped in as a minor maintenance project that will still have huge quality of life benefits, as opposed to the hundred million dollar grounding. That's still probably 10+ years away in just planning, EIS, and design, let alone funding.
I agree, they are orders of magnitude different. Since money is the problem, I hope the State taps into the (hopefully) forthcoming Federal infrastructure bill to remove the overpass.
 

ra84970

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Nice start, but MassDOT still needs to remove the elevated roads and boulevardlize the route with proper bike paths, road diets, walkways and landscaping. That's an obvious no-brainer from a city planning perspective but it never seems to gain much traction at MassDOT.
If the highway is getting these buffered bike lanes - it's a big step up from what's there today.
 

chrisbrat

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Looks like a step in a better direction, but that bridge over the commuter rail/glx is so rusted and in need of paint I hope that gets some attention, too. I couldn't find any mention of repairing the missing or partially disconnected (and nearly all rusted) railings, but hopefully that also happens.
 

erom

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Can someone explain why grounding McGrath is considered a positive at all? I live right there, and I walk through the "eyesore" block next to the future GLX stations all the time, so I get why the current conditions aren't ideal, but the alternative of grounding that much traffic seems way worse. I lived through the grounding of the inner loop in Rochester, NY, and it sucked and really hurt the walkability of the neighborhood (You used to be able to cross over the highway without interacting with it much, but now you have to navigate a fairly large, complex set of very busy surface intersections).

Are there examples of this type of highway grounding that have gone well? It seems to me leaving McGrath elevated and instead putting resources into improving walkability/bikability on the surrounding access roads would be a better return.
 

kjdonovan

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Can someone explain why grounding McGrath is considered a positive at all?
Induced demand, in reverse, which I guess would be called... reduced demand. The road is busy because it is marketed as a highway. Though the current MassDOT plans aim to essentially allow for the same amount of traffic (which doesn't ease your concerns), the theory goes that if you make a road less inviting to thru-traffic (people not from Somerville and not trying to get to Somerville), then they will opt for a different route to reach their destination.

So, currently North Shore commuters trying to get to Kendall and other Cambridge/Boston hubs use McGrath because it is the least bad option. This change would make that no longer the case.

If you're looking for a comparison, I'd say McGrath should feel the same way that Rt 9 does at Brookline Village. Comparative distance from downtown, comparative traffic loads, worlds apart in terms of the effect the road has on the neighborhood.
 

Equilibria

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If you're looking for a comparison, I'd say McGrath should feel the same way that Rt 9 does at Brookline Village. Comparative distance from downtown, comparative traffic loads, worlds apart in terms of the effect the road has on the neighborhood.
That's a good comparison - a more direct one is the Casey Overpass that MassDOT grounded in the past few years. My take as a daily car commuter (pre-pandemic) on McGrath is that the grade separation accomplishes almost nothing in terms of efficiency, since the intersections and sight lines are so poor (and F-Line is right, the volumes aren't actually huge, though poor geometry and signal timings mean that delay is) I actually think it will be better/calmer to drive on McGrath after this re-striping and then after the grounding, because the intersections will be much better designed.
 
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Vagabond

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McGrath's traffic loads dropped off a cliff as soon as the Big Dig opened. That's the smoking gun that it's always carried a disproportionate load of induced demand.
I worry about the grounding project not planned until a few years after the full opening of Cambridge Crossing, Union Square, Boynton Yards etc. This is a direct path for that wave of suburbanites trying to speed through the city, and that load will inevitably increase. The sooner the grounding improves Somerville connectivity for actual Somerville residents the better.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I worry about the grounding project not planned until a few years after the full opening of Cambridge Crossing, Union Square, Boynton Yards etc. This is a direct path for that wave of suburbanites trying to speed through the city, and that load will inevitably increase. The sooner the grounding improves Somerville connectivity for actual Somerville residents the better.
Local development was never what drove the volumes on McGrath, though, so it's tough to see where it's going to specifically weight to that direction. McGrath's former overloads were diverted I-93 traffic trying to end-run around the parking lot feeding the Artery via the Somerville decks...because 28 *was* the due-north highway before 93 was completed in the 70's. The great big volume drop happened immediately in '03-04 when the Big Dig opened in stages, because bailing to 28 in Medford and/or Somerville no longer was faster-on-clock than just sitting in slow...but moving...traffic on the decks. It used to be that 8 times out of 10 you'd fare better shortcutting via Fellsway...and then that flipped to 8 times out of 10 you'd get there faster staying on 93. The shortcut stopped being any shortcut because of the orders-of-magnitude humongous LOS improvement on the mainline.


Those dropped loads are not going to magically reappear because of a handful of office buildings. The loads that used to be there when it was a de facto 93 bypass had profound directional bias from the north. New office buildings don't have such bias; they pull more or less equally from all commute directions. Somebody commuting to CC from MetroWest or South Shore is never gonna sniff McGrath on their best route to work. And the whole proof-in-pudding that the parkway was a horrible induced demand trap was in the fact that very little of the traffic was ever destined locally. They were instead slamming Somerville into oblivion to get to Downtown. Whatever commutes these new devs might be creating are barely countable statistical noise vs. the surges that used to go here for sole sake of blowing through there to get to Kendall, Financial District, and Back Bay.
 
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Charlie_mta

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Can someone explain why grounding McGrath is considered a positive at all?
Removing the elevated roads and shrinking the footprint of the traffic lanes (road diet) will open up space for separated bike paths, walkways and landscaping. Visually it will become a parkway rather than an elevated expressway. For examples of this type of project look to the old Central Artery removal and Casey Overpass removal on the Arborway, The Central Artery project has obviously invigorated the areas along that corridor. Removal of the McGrath overpasses will do something similar spurring improvements and redevelopment. With GLX and the grounding of McGrath, the neighborhoods along the highway will become highly desirable, and an extension of the reinvigorated Union Square.
 

Texasian

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They were instead slamming Somerville into oblivion to get to Downtown. Whatever commutes these new devs might be creating are barely countable statistical noise vs. the surges that used to go here for sole sake of blowing through there to get to Kendall, Financial District, and Back Bay.
Would it be fair to say that the random, occasional bumper-to-bumper traffic you'd see on Prospect either north our southbound is caused by overflow/issues on 93?
 

JeffDowntown

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Would it be fair to say that the random, occasional bumper-to-bumper traffic you'd see on Prospect either north our southbound is caused by overflow/issues on 93?
I know I used to help cause that effect on occasion, for the 93 reason.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Would it be fair to say that the random, occasional bumper-to-bumper traffic you'd see on Prospect either north our southbound is caused by overflow/issues on 93?
Prospect really isn't a crosstown Artery. That traffic is mostly local, although the bunching is infamously exacerbated by lousy signal timing in the Union Sq. vicinity...which is a tertiary outflow problem of the parkway. Some of the current McGrath improvements are going to help with that, because the staggered Washington signals around the parkway ramps were so wretchedly timed that they routinely backed the street up right into Union. Somerville Ave. + Washington have some of the most bugfuck-unexplainable signal timings in all of Metro Boston, and absolutely none of the lipstick-on-a-pig things the DOT has done to-date have substantially targeted that festering problem...until now. You'll probably see some corresponding improvement around Union as an echo effect from the signal retimings...but beyond that the southern and western feeders into the Square are largely a separate ecosystem.


The Northern Expressway was the last of the major Boston highways to open...not being fully tied-into the Artery until 1973. From the 50's to the '73 the MA 28 mainline was the load-bearing highway into Downtown from points due north, until completion of the Medford-Artery gap transferred that function to 93. Drivers would bail onto 28/Fellsway at the Spot Pond exit when the Northern's construction stalled out there in the early-60's...and eventually to Mystic Ave. when the expressway advanced another couple miles. Completion of the planned highway should've allowed them to consider grounding the McGrath 45 years ago when its substandard Wartime construction first would've started showing its age, because the volumes should've transferred over to 93 upon its completion. Unfortunately the extreme-substandard Artery was simply never equipped to absorb all of the traffic from the much higher-capacity Northern, and the cancellation of the Inner Belt splitting off there right before the Route 1 merge took away the primary means of defusing the capacity mismatch. So from literally Day 1 the decks opened, the backups onto the decks spanned for miles...and lasted hours beyond the regular rush period. Average length of the AM backups put it to the Mystic ramps, and on a bad day it would go all the way to Spot Pond. PM was somewhat better, but not better enough because the Somerville decks were always in active process of disaster-triaging the outflow of the Artery's backups...and were perpetually constipated as a result.

Because 93 never did its intended thing, the volumes never left McGrath like they should've in the early-70's. Average backup queue was so bad you still had a faster trip bailing at Mystic Ave. (or even Spot Pond) and doing 28 the rest of the way in. Wellington Circle, Leverett Circle, Storrow Drive, Memorial Drive, and so on paid additional induced demand price as a result. On the way home the Artery ramps were such an unbelievable clusterfuck that shortcutting was the norm. This vicious cycle of overload didn't stop until the CA/T bores and connections all opened throughout '03-04. The reduction on McGrath was swift and immediate, because finally 93 had enough matching capacity through Downtown to take the decks and staying on the highway became, extremely more often than not, the fastest way.

I lived in East Somerville right off Pearl St. from '02-04 and witnessed the changeover up close on my own daily walking commute. You'd see McGrath completely locked stone-solid every afternoon between the Medford St. and Broadway lights (some days stretching all the way to Mystic Ave.), and the frontage roads between Medford and Somerville Ave. all backed up because of choked merge queues before the Medford lights. Almost from the day the SB tunnel opened in '03 those backups largely disappeared. No longer spanned multiple signals. Looked, comparatively, like School Vacation week traffic every week compared to what was the norm immediately beforehand. NB's opening in '04 and completion of the last disrupted links knocked another peg out from under it. You almost never had jams spanning the Medford-Pearl signal pair anymore...rarely ever had backed-up merge queues between Washington-Medford anymore. And the Viaduct itself more often than not was a 60 MPH drag strip at 9:00am and 4:00pm between the Medford lights and the Twin City lights. The qualitative effects were that dramatic just as a daily passerby. Those qualitative effects were quickly backed up by new MassHighway traffic counts showing the magnitude of the load reduction on hard-data spreadsheets. And the loads haven't crept back in any way/shape/form in the 15+ years since.


The cause for the overload was *extremely* singular. Extremely. Like...I get at least the sentiment of *some* of the highway teardown fears, like Casey Overpass @ Arborway. Because the data said that there was significant induced demand that would go away with a traffic calming, but said data was abstract enough for buying into that concerned citizens could be excused for asking "But what if you're wrong?" There's no such abstraction here. It was clear as day where the traffic was coming from, where it was going, and where it was going to vanish to if the source problem got licked. Somerville writ-large has never really concern-trolled the whataboutism of dieting McGrath--or the Sullivan Sq. overpass + Rutherford Ave. for that matter, since those problems were equally fed by the 93 breakage and equally vanished in '03-04--because of how duh-obvious the traffic dynamics were. And building up the neighborhoods was never ever going to induce a new growth spike strictly on local traffic that would backfill any of the slack capacity. Too small-potatoes compared to everyone from Stoneham to Concord, NH who used to be using 28 as the daily shortcut to spray everywhere across the CBD. Any increased replacement volumes drawn by strictly local destinations are going to be diffused from all directions...not pushed through a singular "everywhere due-north to everywhere CBD" funnel like the shortcutters of old.
 

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