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Somerville doesn’t want people to forget about tearing down the McGrath Highway overpass

A commuter waited for a bus beneath the McCarthy Overpass in Somerville in 2012.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

Between the Green Line Extension project, the Union Square makeover, and the installation of the community bike path, Somerville has been pretty busy, to say the least.

“There’s a whole bunch going on,” said Brad Rawson, the city’s transportation director.

But officials don’t want residents and commuters around the region to forget about another important project that’s still on the radar: Tearing down the McCarthy Overpass, the elevated portion of McGrath Highway that residents, advocacy groups, and elected leaders for years have been asking to be removed.


To keep stakeholders informed on the project’s latest updates, Somerville officials are hosting the “Grounding McGrath Community Meeting” on Wednesday, May 22, at East Somerville Community School Auditorium, according to a statement from Mayor Joseph Curtatone’s office.

“The preliminary design phase of MassDOT’s McGrath Boulevard Development Project is complete,” the community announcement read. “Although construction funding for the project will not be available until 2026, community participation during this planning phase is important for helping to ensure the community’s goals for the corridor are realized.”

According to MassDOT’s website, Route 28 through Somerville — which is referred to as McGrath Highway and includes the overpass — was built prior to Interstate 93. The intent was to allow for traffic coming from the north to commute into Boston.

“Unfortunately, the design — particularly the McCarthy Overpass over McGrath Boulevard — bisected several Somerville neighborhoods, created a barrier to pedestrians, and isolated the Environmental Justice neighborhood of East Somerville,” the state’s website says. “In addition, Route 28 makes no provisions for cyclists.”

In 2013, the state recommended at a hearing to turn the highway into a street-level boulevard, a proposal based on community input and a study called “Grounding McGrath.”


Once the overpass is gone, plans call for it to be replaced with a streetscape concept to “support safer pedestrian and cycling routes as well as reconnect the Somerville neighborhoods” divided by the massive structure, city officials said this week.

The city said in its notice to the public that MassDOT’s initial design includes two lanes for vehicular traffic in both directions, a wide sidewalk for pedestrian access, and specialized lanes and signals for those biking through the area. New landscaping is also part of the changes.

In a separate Facebook post Tuesday, Curtatone said that if it were up to him, he’d bring down the highway using brute strength.

“I’d rip down McGrath with my bare hands if I could,” he wrote.

He can’t.

So instead, he’s trying to rally the community to come together and discuss the proposal to remove what many have deemed a public eyesore — including the mayor himself.

“The more people who show up, the more it reinforces our urgency to get rid of this monstrosity,” Curtatone said.

In the past, Curtatone has said getting rid of the McCarthy Overpass would be like “removing a scar that runs through our city,” calling it “a monument to urban blight” and a place that “not even mushrooms” would grow.

Rawson, the transportation director, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that the work on the project is still a long way away. But it’s important, he said, with everything else going on, to remind residents that plans for the overpass have not been forgotten.


“The community has been rightly focused on the Green Line Extension and other projects, and we wanted to take an opportunity to remind stakeholders that this is a priority project for the city and the region,” he said. “This will be a refresh of all of the great work that has happened since 2010, 2011, when they started to accelerate the planning work.”

According to the most recent update on the state’s website, “The preliminary design phase of the McGrath Boulevard Development Project is complete, giving us the foundation for a corridor plan.”

Officials said the next phase, which will include the formal design plan, will commence once the necessary environmental permits are secured. A MassDOT representative will be on hand at this month’s meeting.

While there have been plenty of overpass critics, others said this week that they’d prefer it stay where it is — especially given the current work happening around Somerville.

“McGrath Highway is the best thing about this area,” one person wrote in response to Curtatone’s Facebook post Tuesday. “Leave it alone.”

Another person replied, “Joe, I have to ask, honestly, Are you trying to make traffic so bad in this City that nobody can drive? I know you want a bike city, but some of us can’t ride bikes!”

Rawson said that, ideally, work would begin in 2026 on the project. It would include several years of construction that would probably carry into 2030.


But, he added, “We always want our residents and stakeholders to be active and engaged in any project dialogue, particularly far-reaching and important infrastructure planning work.”

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.