A Tour of Somerville Community Road Construction and the New Light Rail Line – StreetsblogMASS

During last week’s NACTO conference in Boston, attendees left the Hynes Convention Center each morning for “walks” that offered tours of some of the area’s pedestrian, bike, and transit infrastructure.

One of these walkshops offered a guided tour of the construction of the extension of the Somerville Community Road, which is nearing the end of its construction by the contractors in charge of the extension project of the green line. As the community path will provide a primary access point to several stations along the new Medford branch of the Green Line, the path is expected to be open when the new light rail line opens to passengers later this year.

Our tour covered approximately 0.6 miles on the new path, from the Brickbottom neighborhood, just east of the future East Somerville Green Line station, to Medford Street, behind the new Somerville High School. But the full scheme will span just over two miles and stretch from the Community Path’s current terminus at Lowell Street to Lechmere station across the city line in Cambridge:

A map of Mass projects.  Central Rail Trail in the greater Boston area in July 2022. Solid black lines indicate existing off-street paths in the Mass network.  Central Rail Trail;  dashed red lines indicate projects currently under construction: (1), the Waltham Wayside Trail project, and (2), the Somerville Community Path, being built as part of the Green Line Extension Project.  The dotted gray line marked (3) in Belmont is the first phase of the Belmont Community Path, which could begin construction in 2026.
A map of Mass projects. Central Rail Trail in the greater Boston area in July 2022. Solid black lines indicate existing off-street paths in the Mass network. Central Rail Trail; dashed red lines indicate projects currently under construction: (1), the Waltham Wayside Trail project, and (2), the Somerville Community Path, being built as part of the Green Line Extension Project. The dotted gray line marked (3) in Belmont is the first phase of the Belmont Community Path, which could begin construction in 2026.
Three people wearing construction vests walk on a long straight cobbled path next to train tracks.  In the distance, the path climbs a ramp and then curves as far as the eye can see, and beyond is the skyline of downtown Boston.
Looking southeast from East Somerville Station towards downtown Boston. In the distance is the ramp that will carry the Community Path onto Green Line lanes in the Lechmere neighborhood, where the path will continue on existing trails to the Charles River and downtown Boston.
People wearing construction vests pass under a "J" Sign at the East Somerville Green Line station construction site.  To the right is a bicycle parking pavilion and, in the distance, the canopy of the station platform.  A row of lights on the left edge of the photo traces the course of a ramp that leads to Washington Street.
For now, the community road will provide the main access point to the future East Somerville Green Line station, pictured here. A ramp visible on the left (behind the “T” sign) descends to Washington Street. On the right is a bicycle parking area for users of the Green Line who will access the new station by bicycle.
An aerial view of Washington Street, which features (left to right) a new wide sidewalk, a protected bike lane, two motor vehicle lanes, and a red-painted bike and bus lane.  Midway is the McGrath Freeway overpass.  Beyond that, two high-rise buildings are under construction in Union Square.
A view of Washington Street in East Somerville from the bridge that carries the Green Line Extension, the Lowell Line commuter rail tracks and the Community Road Extension. East Somerville pedestrians will access the new East Somerville station from a ramp leading from Washington Street to Community Path. The two new high-rise buildings being built on the Skyline are next to the new Union Square Green Line stop, which opened earlier this year.
A crowd of people wearing brightly colored construction vests and hard hats walk across a bridge beside a chain link fence (left) and a train track (right)
A view of the new Community Road over the bridge that carries the Green Line Extension, the Lowell Line commuter rail tracks and the new trail on Washington Street in East Somerville.
A crowd of people in bright construction vests and helmets listen to a man carrying a backpack at the intersection of the Community Road, which runs alongside the train tracks, and a second road which climbs to street level , above the tracks.  In the distance is the Cross Street Bridge.
NACTO attendees hear from Derek Anderson, Consulting Engineer on the Green Line Extension Project, next to the on-ramp that connects Cross Street (the bridge in the distance) to the Community Road.
A crowd of people in construction vests climb a cobbled path as it rises gently beside a retaining wall (left) and a fence that separates the path from the Green Line lanes (right)
West of the McGrath Expressway, the Community Road begins to rise gently from track level to street level, meeting Walnut Street at ground level near the future Gilman Square Green Line station.
Three women wearing construction protection gear stand in front of a chain-link fence
Karen Molloy (center), a longtime community advocate for Community Road Extension, discusses the history of the project for NACTO conference attendees. Next to her is Viola Augustin (left), the Town of Somerville Liaison Officer for the Green Line Extension Project.

One of the guides for the walk was Karen Molloy, a leading figure in the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership (STEP) who has been advocating for more than a decade for the community road extension to be included in the plan to expand the green line.

In 2015 and 2016, when the costs of the Green Line extension were spiraling out of control, the Community Road extension was on the chopping block, but Molloy, local officials and hundreds of other advocates lobbied for it. remains within the scope of the project.

Last week’s tour was Molloy’s first time walking the new path, and she said it was a moving experience to finally see the results of her advocacy firsthand.

“So many people worked so hard to make this happen,” Molloy said.

A newly paved road, with a wide pedestrian crossing in the foreground.  A man on the sidewalk on the left points to the tape on the left edge of the roadway.  The pavement paint indicates two lanes for cars on the right and a short segment of a narrower cycle lane on the left, separated by a buffer zone indicated by white hatching.
The new Medford Street Bridge (pictured) crosses the Green Line Extension at an angle, so it includes a short section of two-way cycle path for bikes to cross safely. To the left is the entrance to the future Gilman Square station.

However, the cost-cutting process left some desired conveniences behind.

For example, there won’t be consistent light sources along the path when opening (you’ll see streetlights along the path in some of the photos above, but not others).

Viola Augustin, the town of Somerville liaison for the Green Line Extension Project, says the town was able to negotiate the installation of electrical conduit the entire way, and she hopes the town will be able to install additional lighting after the Green Line Line project is officially complete.

The other striking feature of the community road in its present form is the lack of shade or greenery – a marked contrast to the existing community road west of Lowell Street.

Last week’s tour was on a balmy morning with temperatures around 70 degrees, but with no relief from the sun it was much warmer.

Project leaders said the MBTA was reluctant to allow trees near its tracks, where falling branches can wreak havoc with the overhead catenary cables that will power Green Line trains. But Augustin hopes the T will make it possible to plant smaller trees in places where the risk of this happening would be low.

City of Somerville officials are currently negotiating these and other details as part of a long-term maintenance agreement for the new path with the MBTA, which will continue to own the land the path is on once construction completed.

Jose P. Rogers