Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Recently installed public art in a reconfigured Inman Square in Cambridge. (Photo: Marc Levy)

After an extra two years and an additional $4 million, Inman Square construction is expected to be finished paving this week and get final touches on a public plaza within three to four weeks, according to Cambridge staff. With that, a project that has seen some four and a half years of construction will be done.

The project reconfigures confusing traffic patterns and reshapes public spaces with new lighting systems, replaces water mains and services and reconstructs the Springfield Street parking lot. Work took place on Hampshire Street between Amory Street and the Somerville line and on Cambridge Street between Fayette and Oak, said the the Department of Public Works’ Kristen Kelleher.

The redesign process began with a council order in June 2014, before the death of bicyclist Amanda Phillips in June 2016; went from a $3 million estimate to winning a $5 million appropriation from the City Council in 2018; and saw the hiring of Newport Construction in 2019 to see through what was expected to be a two-year project that had ballooned with a winning bid of $7.9 million.

The Covid pandemic and subsequent supply chain issues hindered construction once estimated to be complete by the fall of 2021. The added time allowed the contractors to implement changes improving on the original plan, Kelleher said.

Traffic improvements have been key to remaking Inman Square. (Photo: Marc Levy)

“When you’re digging underground, you start to find things that aren’t as in good shape as you thought they were,” said Jerry Friedman, supervising engineer for Public Works.

An improved storm drain system in the square and on side streets was added after receiving updated climate change models partway through the project, Kelleher said. Additions including a “quick build” bike lane on Cambridge Street between Oak and Prospect and fire alarm infrastructure “meshed well with the work which Newport was already going to be doing” but brought the total to $10.4 million. With the needed consulting and engineering, the price tag ultimately rose to just over $12 million, Kelleher said.

In addition to a large piece of public art just installed, the public plaza features fixed and flexible seating requested by residents. It’s a place where “people can meet up and feel like they’re in the middle of a bunch of interesting retail,” Friedman said.

Brooke McKenna, the acting Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department chief, said she’s most excited for the public plaza – the project’s finishing touch – but said people have already been able to reap the benefits of the construction.

The initial main goal had been to reconstruct the intersection between Cambridge, Springfield and Hampshire streets – a safety hazard for drivers, bikers, passengers and pedestrians.

Hoping to improve safety and reduce the complexity of the intersection, the city hired Vanasse Hangen Brustlin to do an analysis during the summer of 2015. When Phillips died on Cambridge Street in 2016, the city released safety improvements while the intersection redesign project was ongoing; Traffic, Parking & Transportation held a public meeting to share the examination’s initial findings and possible recommendations a day before Phillips’ crash. During the meeting, the department revealed that 69 crashes had occurred in the square from 2008 to 2012. Phillips was the first fatality, but the department said at the meeting that the “intersection exceeds MassDOT statewide average crash rate.”

Progress on an Inman Square bike lane in November. (Photo: Marc Levy)

McKenna said the city decided that the only way to improve safety would be to completely reconstruct the area into two separate but coordinated intersections. Work began Jan. 30, 2019, with the removal of trees from the original Vellucci Plaza.

“The feeling was really that there was little to do around the edges to make it safer, and that to really make it a better place we would need to completely reconfigure the intersection,” McKenna said.

McKenna said she’s gotten a lot of “really positive feedback” about the changes.

“Prior to this project, it was really difficult to get from one place to another in Inman Square as a pedestrian,” she said. “I think it’s a tremendous change in how things operate, but I think overall it’s such an improvement over the old configuration.”

East Cambridge Business Association executive director Jason Alves was traveling and did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Christopher Calnan contributed to this report.