More than 100 people rallied with elected officials in Somerville Wednesday to demand that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation accelerate safety improvements to Mystic Avenue and McGrath Highway, an area they referred to as the “Corridor of Death.”
In the last two years, three residents have been killed by cars near where McGrath Highway/Route 28 meets Mystic Avenue/Route 38. At an empty lot across from Foss Park, Representative Ayanna Pressley expressed her outrage at the “100% preventable” tragedies, which she deemed the result of underinvestment, poor policy and budget choices.
“This is tragically a continuation of the existing trend in the entire Massachusetts southern congressional district where communities of color, minoritized and marginalized communities, disproportionately feel the burden of critical regional infrastructure,” said Pressley, a Boston Democrat.
She said she will work to direct federal funding towards McGrath Highway in her negotiations with the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
“The need is clear. This section of McGrath Highway deserves separated and protected bike lanes, as well as sound and ultrafine particulate barriers,” she said.
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said the city has told MassDOT about the deaths and crashes since the highway’s construction.
“These accidents, we said were going to happen — these deaths, these crashes — and more will come. We told them that. That’s been our fear from the beginning, and we’ve been ignored because none of this is really equitable or accessible to everyone in our community,” he said.
MassDOT spokeswoman Jacquie Goddard issued a statement Wednesday night.
“MassDOT has been working closely with the City of Somerville over the last several years on improving safety and reducing speeds in this area. Although many improvements have already been implemented, MassDOT recognizes there is more work to be done,’' Goddard wrote. “MassDOT informed elected officials last week that it has the intention of expediting some elements of the McGrath/Mystic Avenue project, including the Blakeley Avenue crosswalk and traffic calming measures in the area of the Kensington Connector.”
She added, “MassDOT looks forward to discussing these plans in more detail with the community in the coming weeks.”
Family and friends of the victims detailed their stories and urged MassDOT to put precautionary measures in place.
Hop Macdescribed how his life was forever changed when a hit-and-run crash in April left his father with fatal injuries. Marshall Mac, a grandfather and Vietnam War veteran, had been crossing McGrath Highway while on his way home from grocery shopping.
“Safety measures need to be raised for change now and not wait for another tragedy to happen,” Mac said, choking back tears, “That is what my dad would want.”
In the summer of 2019, Cheryl Richards was also killed by a hit-and-run driver on the crosswalk of Mystic Avenue at the Kensington underpass. Her friend, Melanie, wore Richards’ photo pinned on her shirt while she called out MassDOT for pushing back action to fix the underpass.
“MassDOT, your inaction is killing us. People should not be risking their lives, dying and being injured when there’s a solution, a plan that can transform a deathtrap into a safe space where the community and highway can coexist,” she said.
Just a month later, in August 2019, Kevin Demont, 68, who was homeless, was struck and killed at the intersection of Mystic Avenue and Shore Drive, the Globe reported.
City Councilor Matt McLaughlin explained that for residents, navigating dangerous intersections is unavoidable. Somerville, he said, resembles an island, as residents cannot leave or come to the city without crossing a highway.
“The people who are affected by this the most, this is just one more obstacle in their lives. This is just another thing for them to get through in their everyday life, to get food, to go home to see their children,” he said.
“Why has it taken 70 years for us to address this issue?” McLaughlin questioned to a round of applause.
The rally comes after MassDOT postponed improvements to upgrade traffic signals and make the Route 28/38 crossing safer for pedestrians and cyclists by a year, to the summer of 2023, according to the project description.
State Representative Mike Connolly criticized the department for, instead, fast-tracking the nearby Interstate 93 Viaduct Preservation project, which does not include sound walls to address potential air and noise pollution.
Connolly said when he brought up those frustrations last month, a MassDOT official replied that the goal of the viaduct preservation project is to “preserve the life of the steel on the highway bridge.”
“If you’re going to preserve the life of the steel, you need to take action to preserve the lives of our constituents,” he said.
Prior to the rally, more than 600 people signed a petition to move up the Route 28/38 road improvement project, address safety and ADA accessibility deficiencies, and include sound barriers in the upcoming viaduct project.
Ariel White, 34, and Matthew Applegate, 35, attended the rally and were among those who signed the petition. They also plan to voice their concerns at the MBTA Capital Investment Plan meeting on June 1 and the June 8 public hearing on the I-93 viaduct preservation.
Although they live a mile away, White said every time they come near the intersection, “something terrifying happens.” Applegate added that the highway has led them to choose a different grocery store than the local Stop & Shop.
“There’s the Stop & Shop, which is really close, but that’s not the grocery store we go to because how do you get there?” he said. “You have to bike or walk on this highway.”