A Letter to MassDOT on the Design for the McGrath Boulevard Project

A Letter to MassDOT on the Design for the McGrath Boulevard Project

SASS organized a coalition of individuals and groups to collaborate on the letter below. It asks MassDOT to consider significant changes to the early version of the McGrath Boulevard project.

This letter was sent to MassDOT leadership on May 14, 2024.

Dear Secretary Tibbits-Nutt and Administrator Gulliver,

We are writing, as a coalition of local advocacy groups and Somerville residents, to request a meeting with you to discuss potential changes to the current concept design for the McGrath Highway reconstruction (“McGrath Boulevard”) as presented at a meeting on February 14. We want to thank the thoughtful and caring professionals at MassDOT who have worked on this project for so long. We are excited to see the progress made and are encouraged by steps the agency has taken to listen to community input.

The McGrath project is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform a highly polluting urban highway into a streetscape that better serves all its users – and, in the process, address some of the harm done to environmental justice neighborhoods in our city over the past 70 years. We ask MassDOT to revisit the project’s space utilization plans and goals, ensuring that the design reconnects neighborhoods and prioritizes the needs, rights, voices, and input of marginalized communities that have borne the greatest impacts from the highway.

We see enormous potential to advance three important goals:

  1. To transform McGrath into an urban street that is safe and welcoming not only to motorists, but to people who are walking, riding a bicycle, or using a wheelchair, as well as public transit riders.
  2. To repurpose land currently occupied by the road for uses that benefit the people of Somerville, such as new parks and housing.
  3. To repair some of the human health and environmental harm done by McGrath and contribute to environmental justice and climate change mitigation and adaptation. We believe those objectives are fully aligned with MassDOT’s stated goals in its December 2013 Grounding McGrath report, of “improving neighborhood connections to nearby amenities, improving facilities supporting sustainable transportation, building resilient infrastructure to face the threats of climate change, and removing barriers with accessible design.”

We appreciate that the conceptual design presented in February takes a major step toward mitigating physical decay and adding facilities for non-motor vehicle modes of travel. However, we believe that there are still several ways to make this project better, such as:

  • Make McGrath narrower overall, shifting the vehicle lanes to one side of the right-of- way and creating useful space for people instead of a wide but useless median. Such a design would more clearly communicate that this is a slow-speed urban street and no longer a highway or “stroad.”
  • Provide crossings that are safe for all, with traffic lights and other traffic calming measures, eliminating highway-like design such as slip lanes, jug-handles, and excessive lane crossings. These must be safe for the most vulnerable users including children walking alone, people pushing strollers or heavy grocery carts, older adults, and people with disabilities. Many Somerville parents have expressed concern about the planned removal of the Otis St. footbridge, which is used by many children daily to get to and from the Edgerly School, the East Somerville Community School, the Capuano School, and the playground. We fully agree that the footbridge should remain in place during construction; once the road is narrowed and safe crossings are complete, the footbridge should be unnecessary.
  • Establish continuous protected bike infrastructure that incorporates safe crossings at all intersections and provides a connection for the Community Path and Grand Junction path at Rufo Road.
  • Maximize usable green space that is accessible to the public – that is not in a median, but on one side of the road or the other, so that people can walk to it directly from their neighborhood. This would create a valuable new amenity for environmental justice communities on both sides of McGrath and contribute to climate goals, by adding vegetation that absorbs carbon, provides shade and cooling, and reduces flood risks in a highly flood-prone area. Planting in this green space could also include a corridor of native plants that facilitates pollinator access to viable habitat in different parts of the city and region, per the Somerville Pollinator Action Plan.
  • Wherever possible, free up land taken from the city to create the highway in the 1950s so that it can be repurposed for much-needed housing or other development that serves the people of Somerville. The stretches between Washington Street and Somerville Avenue and between Broadway and Pearl street are particularly wide and may provide good opportunities.
  • Include stronger bus priority elements, such as a strategically located bus priority lane and queue jumps, to improve the speed and reliability of bus service while still allowing for a human-scale street. This is particularly important south of Medford Street where several lines converge.

Somerville is a very high-density city. Impervious surface makes up 77% of the land, and only 6.5% is open space. East Somerville is polluted and isolated by highways built to serve others. Any plan for McGrath should prioritize redress for those harms.

Since the early redesign plans for McGrath Highway in 2011, motor vehicle volumes have consistently declined – from 35,328 vehicles in 2011 to 23,205 vehicles in 2023. When considering streets that carry similar volumes, Cambridge’s Open Data Portal shows several locations that have relatively similar adjacent land uses and traffic volumes. These include Mass Ave at Cameron (24,264 vehicles in 2016), Mass Ave at Russell (21,941 vehicles in 2016), and Mass Ave at Amherst (22,338 vehicles in 2012.) None of these locations have pedestrian crossings that exceed four lanes of traffic and recently the North Cambridge locations were both retrofitted to carry dedicated bus lanes.

We ask that the MassDOT staff approach this project as if they themselves lived near McGrath and would have to cross the street on foot every day, perhaps pushing a stroller or with a child in tow. While this project cannot undo the decades of harm to our neighborhoods, it can be much better than the current design draft.

We hope that you agree that this is an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate the power of good urban street design and placemaking and will meet with us to discuss further and maybe walk the site together.

Signed, With appreciation:

  • Capuano School PTA
  • Carbon Free Somerville
  • Climate Leadership and Resident Action/St. Polycarp
  • Conservation Law Foundation
  • East Somerville Community School PTA
  • East Somerville Main Streets
  • Friends of the Community Path
  • Gilman Square Neighborhood Council
  • Green and Open Somerville
  • Immigrant Service Providers Group/Health
  • Livable Streets Alliance
  • Mothers Out Front Somerville
  • Somerville Alliance for Safe Streets (SASS)
  • Somerville Bicycle Safety
  • Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership (STEP)
  • Transit Matters
  • WalkMassachusetts
  • Welcome Project
  • YIMBY Somerville
  • Joan Liu, East Somerville Resident
  • Sophie Cash, Groundwork Somerville Community Engagement Director
  • Chris Dwan, Ward 2 Resident
  • Alessandra Seiter, Ward 5 Resident
  • Sam Musher, East Somerville Resident
  • Ellin Reisner, East Somerville Resident
  • Jon Woodward, East Somerville Resident
  • Crystal Huff, Ward 5 Resident
  • Shauna Powers, Winter Hill Resident, and parent of Edgerly School children
  • Meredith Brown, East Somerville resident, parent of Edgerly School & Capuano School children
  • Cassie Walston, MPH, Ward 1 Resident, Winter Hill Community Innovation School (WHCIS) Parent
  • Anne Ryan, East Somerville Resident, member of the Climate Leadership and Resident Action (CLARA) team and Cobble Hill Tenants group
  • Aili Contini-Field, Ward 3 resident, parent of two WHCIS@Edgerly students and WHCIS PTA member
  • Ethan Contini-Field, Ward 3, parent of two WHCIS@Edgerly students and WHCIS PTA member
  • Jon Schultz, Winter Hill Resident and parent of Edgerly School children
  • Angelina Schultz, Winter Hill Resident and parent of Edgerly School children
  • Bev Feldman, Winter Hill Resident and parent of Edgerly School children
  • Remlee Green, Winter Hill resident and parent of WHCIS@Edgerly student
  • Amy Mertl, East Somerville Resident
  • Joanna Taylor, Somerville Resident and former Capuano parent
  • Emily Spicer Hankle, Winter Hill Resident and parent of Edgerly School children
  • Wes Mason, Somerville Resident
  • Cara Pardo, Somerville Resident and parent of WHCIS@Edgerly children
  • Cole Rainey-Slavick, Somerville Resident
  • Ines Lee Santos, parent of two Winter Hill students, resident at James Street in Somerville


  • McGrath Boulevard Project Team
  • Senator Pat Jehlen
  • Representative Michael Connolly
  • Representative Erika Uyterhoeven
  • Mayor Katjana Ballantyne
  • Somerville City Council
  • Director Brad Rawson
  • Somerville Urban Forestry Committee
  • Somerville Pedestrian & Transit Advisory Committee
  • Somerville Bicycle Advisory Committee
  • Somerville Commission for Persons with Disabilities
  • Somerville Pollinator Action Plan
  • Somerville Commission for Women

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