State Funding to Aid Kensington Underpass Revamp

Kensington UnderpassThe Kensington Underpass. Photo courtesy of the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development.

Somerville’s efforts to revamp the Kensington Underpass will be supplemented by $95,000 in state aid, according to State Rep. Mike Connolly.

The underpass that connects East Somerville to Assembly Row often comes across as dark and dangerous, Director of Transportation and Infrastructure Brad Rawson explains.

“Ever since the zeitgeist, the mania that our society went through with building elevated highways and sunken tunnels in 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, as we became an auto-dominated culture, clearly one of the consequences was this grade-separated highway infrastructure cut off neighborhoods from one another,” he says. “It literally created walls that prevent human beings from walking from neighborhood to neighborhood, and the I-93 viaduct in Somerville is just a poster child for this planning dilemma.”

“As someone who spends a good amount of time in East Somerville, it’s always struck me, and a lot of folks in the community, that it’s really hard to access Assembly Row, it’s hard to access the Mystic River … [we] heard from residents about different areas of concern, and something that people kept coming back to was just how unsafe and uninviting that crossing is,” Connolly says.

State Sen. Pat Jehlen also helped to secure the funding. “This project has come a long way,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to move the design process forward to give people in the neighborhood a clean, safe, and easy route to navigate.”

Exact plans and a timeline for the underpass are still in the works, but the revamp will focus around pedestrian safety, lighting, and art, according to city officials.

One step toward improving pedestrian safety in the underpass was taken last year, Rawson says: traffic signals on the East Somerville side were replaced so that they now require cars to stop periodically for pedestrians.

The new traffic signal is just one of a series of partnerships and deals, many with private entities, that the city has orchestrated in order to secure the needed improvements for the underpass. The traffic signals were “a condition of the Assembly Square development permits,” Rawson explains. More updated traffic signals are slated to go up on the Assembly Square side next year, he says, which will be paid for by Eversource as a condition of permitting for its transmission line. Also in 2019, MassDOT will be putting in updated lighting in the underpass that Streetscape and Public Space Planner Cortney Kirk says will focus around safety.

Rawson explains that he’s excited to add art to the underpass, citing its intended effect: “This is a pretty marginal space, and having safety upgrades and lighting is great, but we also want to take advantage of the space … and so if we have opportunities to have space for murals, space for cultural storytelling, artistic lighting elements, on-pavement murals, just stuff to send those psychological signals to pedestrians [that this is] a usable, safe, and inviting, a normal space, as opposed to a marginal or forgotten space.”

To learn more about the underpass improvements, you can attend a public meeting about the project on Oct. 5 at 2 p.m. at 3 Glen St.