By Judy Locchi Jacobs
Members of the Somerville Chamber of Commerce met this past Tuesday morning with invited guests to discuss updates of the GLX Bridge closings and other details of the project. The event took place at the Somerville Holiday Inn and was sponsored by Sandra McGoldrick, President and CEO of the Winter Hill Bank.
In attendance, were a number of Chamber business owners, including Stephen Mackey, Chamber President, Thomas Bent, Government Affairs Committee Chair, Senator Patricia Jehlen, former Mayor Gene Brune and former Alderman Jack Connolly.
GLX Presenters: Brad Rawson, Senior City Planner and Head of Transportation, Tom Galligani, Director of Economic Development and Marty Nee, Community Relations Manager, City Point, Partners
Topics of the meeting included — Supporting Business Owners of Ball Square during closure of the Ball Square Bridge. Providing proper signage, detailed traffic mitigation by Somerville Police, to lessen traffic congestion on alternate detoured routes for those commuting by bus and car. Plans for bicyclists and pedestrians will be discussed at a later date.
Head of Transportation, Brad Rawson stated the city administration will be working to update GPS software applications with corporations WAZE and Google to help commuters reach their destinations.
Target date for the Ball Square bridge closing is January 2019. One business owner asked if the Ball Square bridge could be opened to one lane, however presenters explained reasons why this would not be a viable option.
First and foremost, the state has estimated the approximate cost of $10 million dollars if any of the suggested modifications were to be implemented to provide access to the Ball Square bridge during rail and bridge reconstruction.
Admittedly, presenters agreed there was serious consideration to this option, however, after weighing pros and cons, a decision was made to close the bridge.
Also shared by presenters was additional closing of bridges on Medford Street and Washington Street. It’s possible Ball Square, Medford Street and Washington Street bridge projects will overlap and be closed for approximately 4 months simultaneously.
Chamber President Stephen Mackey raised two issues —the budget and amount of vehicles traveling through the city.
This was touched upon briefly by presenters at the prior GLX meeting at the Baptist Church, College Ave., on 8/29 when he mentioned the amount of travelers who cross the Ball Square bridge— “13,000 x 365 days = 4,750,000 vehicles= 4,750,000 anticipated detours”.
Mackey is concerned about the budget for the project and how traffic may have an impact on funding mitigation services. It’s clear that funds will have to be used while bridges are closed to meet unanticipated costs.
He also raised concerns about the 3 bridge closings (Ball Sq./Medford St./Washington St.) over a period of 4-7 months would amount to approximately 10 million detours.
In addition, he added MBTA buses, and safety vehicles could be effected by expected gridlock, during months May thru November 2019.
Mackey added, “We need to pay attention to details, meet the challenges of bridge work with the state and city. Mitigating closures, bus trips, safety, businesses, employees getting to work, city wide”.
Other concerns—shared by Mackey, “The city budget, paid details and for firefighters, to rearrange deployment of fire apparatus and other safety vehicles”.
When asked about Union Square Fire and Police stations, presenters explained they will transition to the Washington location during the bridge closings.
Former Mayor Brune calls it, “The 18 month headache”, and continued, “You can’t do a project this large, what about the safety of our residents? How are ambulances and fire trucks going to get around the city?”
Like Brune, Jack Connolly understands concerns of safety to residents during the closing and removal of the Ball Square and other bridges discussed.
Former Alderman Jack Connolly shared that he has been a proponent of the MBTA lines, Red, Orange and Green because he understands the need for public transportation and it’s benefits to the community.
He shares his appreciation to let Ball Square businesses remain open during the holiday season, before the planned closure in January 2019.
Jack agrees that signage, used to display changes on roads be provided in advance to community and all who travel to do business in the city.
He suggests signage be in place for all commuters at least 45 days prior to bridge closings, so everyone on the roads will be properly notified.
In addition, to local signage, presenters said they will work with the state to ensure additional signage is displayed at Route 93 and secondary roadways commuters use when traveling to and from the city.
Brad Rawson said the administration is presently engaged in ongoing discussions with Tufts University regarding details of the project.
During the construction of MBTA rails, it was decided that weekend commuter rail service will be interrupted.
The GLX project will also include the implementation of software to prevent train accidents.
Tom Bent raised questions regarding Inner Belt businesses and how the bridge closing of Washington Street will impact trucks traveling to and from the location.
He asked presenters if there could be further considerations made for alternate routes to lessen anticipated gridlock at this intersection as well as Medford Street and Ball Square, Broadway.
The estimated time for the Ball Square bridge closing will be one year to eighteen months in duration.
Presenters have committed to ensure the project goes smoothly, while supporting businesses as needed and has asked that everyone continue to attend meetings and reach out to them with questions and concerns.
As GLX meetings continue…. it is our mission to keep members of our community well informed.
For more information:
GLX Community Meeting to Discuss Upcoming Bridge Closures, August 29 | City of Somerville