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Highland Avenue is a bumpy road for Somerville residents — a smoother path is on the horizon

A car was spotted driving around Somerville with a bumper sticker that read "This car survived Highland Ave."Chris Devers

SOMERVILLE — If you ask residents, driving down Highland Avenue these days is like “off-roading in the Sahara” and “riding on the surface of the moon.”

One local employee claims a family member’s dentures were knocked out after a particularly bumpy ride on one of the city’s main thoroughfares, home to the high school, City Hall, small businesses, and the library.

For many, coping with humor has become a last resort, as frustrations with the road’s uneven surface and abundance of potholes — caused by extensive and ongoing utility work — has come to a fever pitch.

“If someone could just find a way to hook up some hot water jets, some of those potholes would make for decent jacuzzis at this point,” Chris Devers, who has two children who attend the high school, said in a message to the Globe.

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But a reprieve from the chewed-up streetscape is on the way — drivers and cyclists just have to survive the winter first.

Mayor Katjana Ballantyne’s office announced recently that crews will begin repaving two travel lanes along Highland Avenue, from McGrath Highway to Central Street, beginning in early summer.

Officials said the partial paving project, which won’t include the parking areas next to the curbs, “is an interim measure to support safe travel for all users of the road” ahead of a full-fledged redesign and reconstruction of Highland Avenue that’s scheduled to begin in 2025.

The mayor’s fiscal 2024 budget allocated $375,000 for the paving, which will occur once “critical utility work” currently underway is complete.

“This stretch is one of Somerville’s most traveled roadways, and the administration identified it as a priority for interim repaving,” officials said in a statement.

A pothole on Highland Avenue is one of many that could get repaved this summer, when the city tries to fix the notoriously bumpy road.Alexa Coultoff

While the news should excite commuters, City Council President Ben Ewen-Campen says the infrastructure update is long overdue.

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“I feel we are years behind where we should be on this,” he said of the state of Highland Avenue.

Talks of redesigning the roadway, which cuts through the city from East Somerville to Davis Square, have been in the works for years, Ewen-Campen said. But the previous administration went “radio silent” about changes, he claims.

“The community was expecting us to do this,” he said. “It’s a difficult conversation to have, but the time to do it is now with the sewer work happening.”

The street conditions are so miserable that they’ve become the focus of heated discussions in Facebook groups and on Reddit threads, where residents fire off quips and shoot jokes back and forth about the dangers the road poses.

“Raise your hand if you (or your vehicle) have been personally victimized by Highland Avenue,” one Reddit user recently wrote.

“Nothing like hearing a giant truck hitting every pothole imaginable right outside my window at 3 a.m.,” another person said.

Many locals have even spotted custom-made bumper stickers that say “This Car Survived Highland Ave.,” written in a style that’s a nod to the popular This car climbed Mount Washington decals. While no one seems to know the source of the stickers, appreciative residents have been quick to share the sightings on social media — including city officials.

“We have a VERY busy six months coming up construction wise on Highland Ave,” officials from the Infrastructure and Asset Management department said on X Wednesday, in a post that included a picture of a car bearing the bumper sticker. “But, this will lead to a partially paved travel lane from McGrath to Central Street, later this summer.”

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Jokes aside, however, the avenue hasn’t only become a nuisance to drivers and cyclists — it’s also been bad for businesses.

“It’s been brutal,” said Ada Tauro, owner of Bostonian Florist, which sits across from the high school on Highland Avenue.

Tauro said between the heavy construction that went on during the summer months, and the public’s growing frustrations with navigating Highland, her business has taken a significant hit.

“People don’t want to come on Highland,” she said. “They’re just tired.”

Teddy Cunha, who has worked at the shop for nearly five years, commutes from his home in Brookline and faces the challenges of Highland daily. Cunha once drove his grandmother down the bumpy road, and her dentures fell out, he said.

Even pedestrians are sympathetic to the challenges motorists and cyclists face.

“It’s really horrible,” said Patty Messina, 71, while walking with longtime friend, Anne Oshima.

“I’m concerned when my husband’s driving because he drives really fast,” Oshima, 67, added. “And it’s like driving on a country dirt road.”

For now, the pair sticks to their daily walks. But for the many Somerville residents who rely on a vehicle to get around, steering clear of the street’s pitfalls isn’t so easy.

“Sitting here in my Mazda 3 wondering if I need to buy a lifted truck to comfortably drive around the city,” one person wrote in a Facebook group for Somerville residents this week, ahead of the repaving announcement.

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Ewen-Campen said recent Somerville infrastructure projects have been “transformative” for the community, and that’s the hope for the long-awaited Highland Avenue improvements as well.

“Everyone knows that Highland Ave. deserves to be repaved,” he said. “We really need to take this opportunity to make it a safer street for everyone.”

And their dentures.


Alexa Coultoff can be reached at alexa.coultoff@globe.com. Follow her @alexacoultoff.