Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Powder House Boulevard intersection at Alewife Brook Parkway in Somerville. (Image: Google)

Neighbors who joined a virtual Somerville community meeting about the upcoming revamp of the Powder House Boulevard intersection at Alewife Brook Parkway identified another pressing issue for the project team: Broadway at Alewife Brook Parkway.

When construction begins in two weeks, the southbound lane of Powder House will be closed between Alewife Brook and North Street, rerouting traffic to turn left onto Broadway and then onto North as the rotary at Powder House and Alewife Brook are remade into a T-shaped intersection with traffic lights, raised crosswalks, a dead-end “yield” road off Powder House to calm traffic, sidewalks and bike paths.

For the most part, the response to the changes at the Powder House intersection were positive; but of the more than 70 community members in attendance, most who spoke were concerned about rerouting traffic to turn left onto Broadway where there is now a four-way intersection with a simple stop light. Additionally, just yards south from the intersection on Broadway is a crosswalk to Stop & Shop that has only a flashing yellow to warn drivers. Ward 7 city councilor Judy Pineda Neufeld echoed the concerns of several community members who spoke about residents who walk to the Stop & Shop on Broadway and what increased traffic could do to an already hard-to-use intersection and crosswalk.

“It’s tough now,” she said of turning left from Alewife Brook onto Broadway. “I think it’ll get harder.”

“If we’re sending more cars down Broadway, that intersection or that crosswalk is going to get more unsafe for people who really are already vulnerable users of that crosswalk,” she said.

In fact, $100,000 is earmarked for a Broadway and Alewife Brook Parkway study but that will begin after this construction project is over, project manager Rebecca Wright said.

But how to make the Broadway-Alewife Brook intersection safe for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists will be looked at now – thanks to the input of the community, construction liaison Jesse Moos said.

“The reason we have these meetings is so that we can get these comments from the people who live in these neighborhoods, so if there’s something that we haven’t thought of it’s right in our face,” Moos said. “So we’re going to go back to our project team and say, ‘Hey, this is the feedback we got. We need to make some adjustments.”

Lasts through the summer

The closing of southbound Powder House and the detour onto Broadway is planned to last through the summer. With many community comments during the hourlong meeting focusing on that planned diversion and the safety surrounding that detour without a new traffic signal or a police officer to direct traffic, Moos said this would be a priority for the team.

“We do these meetings to get feedback, and what we heard most importantly is that turn from Alewife onto Broadway [is a priority],” he said. “So we’re going to look at ways to kind of make that safer. We’ll discuss with our mobility team. We’ll discuss with our contractors and also with you once construction really starts.”

And that’s in just a few weeks.

In two weeks, underground utility work on the drainage and sewer system is slated to begin, followed by surface work on the roads and sidewalks in spring. By fall and winter, traffic signal work will be underway. The entire project is set to be complete by summer 2024.

New contractor

The Powder House-Alewife Brook construction project is part of the Somerville Vision Zero Action Plan to end traffic deaths and serious injuries from transportation. Vehicles crashed 48 times between 2014 and 2021 at the Powder House and Alewife Brook intersection, according to the city.

The city is working with a R.M. Pacella, a contractor out of Plainville, to complete the construction, and Boston design and engineering firm Tetra Tech. It’s the first time the city has worked with R.M. Pacella, and Moos said it was exciting that a new contractor wanted to work with the city.

“There’s multiple projects going on throughout our city,” Moos said. “So it’s actually kind of exciting when we get a new contractor who comes in who wants to do work in Somerville because they’ve heard good things about internally how the engineering team works.”

Some construction prep may already be noticeable, Wright said. Six trees were removed and relocated elsewhere in the community. As construction wraps up, 22 new trees will be planted as part of the plan.

Community input

Moos said the project team will continue to hold community meetings and will continue to ask for feedback and questions from the community.

Construction public information officer Nick Alakel said between meetings, the community should still bring questions and concerns to the team.

“Definitely the best way to send along questions is [email protected],” Alakel said. “It’s just a great way to connect with the project team directly regarding any questions you may have as construction gets underway here.”

He also urged Somerville residents to sign up for city email and text alerts, especially as the construction project ramps up alongside other construction projects in the neighborhood, such as the Clarendon Hill redevelopment.

“If you’ve moved in this city over the last couple of years, I would just check to make sure your address in our system is up to date,” he said. “These messages are graphically targeted. So if you‘re in the vicinity of our project here, you are going to want to make sure you have your address up to date.”