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Friends and neighbors,
I am grateful for all of you who have been engaged in our community discussion about the future of Highland Avenue. We have a huge task, and a huge opportunity ahead. I wanted to take a moment to bring you up to speed on my thought process.
In December, I directed City staff to test feasibility of a new street design, one that reflects our community’s desire to prioritize people walking, rolling, biking and riding the bus. Our previous design emphasized safety, accessibility, traffic calming and bus transit, but did not meet Somerville’s expectations for bicycling by people of all ages and abilities.
Staff’s feasibility analysis is complete. Based on this technical review, I believe that the future of the Highland Avenue corridor is a future with safe, protected bike lanes serving our incredible new Somerville High School, the Central Hill civic campus and other important community destinations between Davis Square and McGrath Highway.
My vision for a safe, green Highland Avenue cannot be realized without major changes to curbside parking and loading. Many stakeholders will view this tradeoff differently than I do. I respect diverse opinions, and I have directed City staff to prepare a new project schedule that will permit appropriate data collection, debate, and policy planning to manage limited curbside parking and loading resources. We don’t have all the answers yet, but the City is committed to working with our constituents to find them.
The City’s original schedule for our Spring Hill Sewer Separation project planned to complete construction of Highland Avenue from Central Street to Hamlet Street (near McGrath Highway) in 2023. The section of Highland between Central Street and Cutter Avenue (near Davis Square) was more speculative, and was imagined to be completed in the 2026 timeframe.
City staff have recommended a new approach in which the two parts of Highland will be grouped into a new standalone project that has the potential to be completed in 2024. Data collection and public outreach have already begun, and a formal funding request to the City Council for project engineering costs will be submitted this spring. Meanwhile, the critical sewer separation project for the larger Spring Hill neighborhood (which includes new streetscapes for portions of Summer Street, Central Street and School Street) will proceed with the goal to start construction in late 2021 and finish construction in late 2023.
In my mid-term address of March 1, I described how my final term as Mayor would honor the bold and progressive vision you hired me to implement. A major reason that the Somerville community chose to rebuild Somerville High School on the historic campus is its central location offering safe choices in how to travel there. Let’s give our youth the chance to be free-range. Let’s help constituents access City services no matter how they get around. Let’s build a Highland Avenue worthy of the new Central Hill Civic Campus.