Wednesday, July 24, 2024

A stretch of Somerville Community Path extension is still in need of asphalt Tuesday. (Photo: Mike Connolly via Twitter)

The opening of the new multi-use Somerville Community Path extension from central Somerville to East Cambridge has been pushed back for the third time, having been originally slated to open in February, then getting delayed to March or April, and now to June.

Soon the project will be six months behind. “As with all MBTA construction contracts, the contract contains elements of consequences related to incomplete work, which are assessed as part of the project closeout process,” said Lisa Battiston, deputy press secretary for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

After contractors complete their work, the T’s System-Wide Accessibility and Safety team will conduct a walk-through to ensure the path is fully operational and accessible to all, Battiston said. She did not respond when asked to expand on the statement.

“Like other community members, I too am frustrated that Somerville’s long-awaited Community Path is still not ready for public use. We are urging the MBTA to prioritize remaining work on the path,” Mayor Katjana Ballantyne said.

According to an update on the City’s Green Line Extension webpage published Monday, contractors are “finishing final construction punch-list items” that include installing fencing and guardrails, electrical equipment for lighting and emergency call boxes and adjusting pavement grade for drainage.

Lack of communication

But it wasn’t the city or MBTA that announced the most recent delay on the project; it was Mass Streets Blog. Some mobility groups have expressed disappointment in communications from the transit agency regarding progress on the path.

“We’d love to see updates,” said Lynn Weismann, co-president of Friends of the Community Path. “This is an extremely popular project.”

Brendan Kearney, deputy director of Walk Massachusetts, a pedestrian advocacy group, said he also didn’t see any communications before the Mass Streets Blog post. “I’ve signed up for every notification list from MassDot, MBTA – I had not seen anything.”

“The MBTA has been a bit of a black box on this,” city councilor Jake Wilson said. “[Constituents] ask me about the path on a daily basis, often multiple times a day” – so frequently, in fact, that Wilson made a webpage dedicated to the question called Is the path open yet?, which he shared on Twitter last month. A quick search on the Somerville Reddit page for the Community Path extension shows monthly threads on the topic, filled with speculations and questions from confused residents.

Ballantyne said she is urging the MBTA “to publish a schedule update with a list of outstanding work items so that residents have a better understanding of the project’s status.” Once the date is set for the path opening, the city will share it across communication channels such as a project website and construction newsletter, she said.

Progress at Lechmere

A bus shelter is among improvements seen Tuesday at Cambridge’s Lechmere green line MBTA station. (Photo: Mike Connolly via Twitter)

Members of the Somerville’s state delegation met Wednesday with Bill Ferrari, acting program manager for the transit agency’s green line extension project, to discuss the status of the path and other details. While they learned of several improvements at Cambridge’s Lechmere green line subway station, where the path picks up, the update on the path was mainly on what remained to be done, state Rep. Mike Connolly said. “I let the MBTA know they’ve done a poor job in recent weeks in terms of communicating with our community regarding the remaining work,” Connolly said. “To our community, it looks like the path is fully completed and is just sitting dormant.”

“While it is frustrating for us to be enduring several more weeks of delays, in the grand scheme of things I remain excited that this wonderful new amenity will open soon,” Connolly said.

And at Lechmere, a bus loop left incomplete when service started now has a starter’s booth and sidewalks; bus shelters were recently opened; and a plaza by the station has been widened. But under a viaduct from Gilmore Bridge to the new station remains “a rubble- and junk-strewn no-man’s land [that’s] much more of a blight on the neighborhood than the old 1910-era viaduct was,” Connolly added on social media from a constituent. “There’s been no construction or improvement activity on that stretch in more than a year. Surely they don’t mean to leave it as a fenced-in gravelly mess?”

Allowed by lease

According to a lease agreement with the MBTA, Somerville will take over the path after it opens. The lease was approved by the Somerville City Council in February and is in the process of being signed by the city and MBTA, Somerville senior mobility planner Viola Augustin said.

There is speculation among advocacy groups and residents that the project and the lease signing is being delayed to ensure incomplete work doesn’t fall on the city’s plate after the path opens. “It’s good to hold contractors and companies to their words,” Kearney said. “The city doesn’t want to be saddled with other costs that it shouldn’t be.”

The lease allows for added lighting and greenery. Augustin said the city is working with the MBTA on additional lighting and will work with the MBTA for the next two years “to maximize and optimize planted areas.” One thing the city can’t change is the width of the path, which has caused some concern. Friends of the Community Path and other advocacy groups recommended a 12- to 14-foot width since the inception of the path to accommodate heavy traffic, but the path averages 10 feet across and gets narrower at sections lined with railings.

Walk Massachusetts’ Kearney said he suspects there may be conflict, but he hopes path users will be courteous of one another. Friends of the Community Path’s Weisman said she expects the sheer volume of traffic might prevent cyclists from speeding.

“I’ve been pushing more for speed regulation on some segments of the path,” Wilson said. “There are some areas without a shoulder to take to. It’s a very different animal from the existing Community Path. Some members of the cycling community are leery of speed limits being used. I’m hopeful that the folks who are opposing speed regulation will get a look at it.”

Despite the path being a primary access route for commuting cyclists, Weisman says she hopes the pathway will adopt a “linear park” style comparable to the current Community Path which sees a mix of walkers, runners, cyclists, and children at play. But at the moment, the Community Path extension is still empty.

version of this story appeared originally on Somerville Wire.