News from the State House, June 3, 2021

JUNE 3, 2021

As we celebrate Pride Month and cautiously look forward to the first full month of a re-opened Massachusetts, I want to take a moment to pass along some of the latest news from my State House office.

For my latest update on the reopening process (and the need to continue pushing for equity in response to the pandemic), please see this recent blog post.

As always, please don't hesitate reach out to me directly with any questions and concerns. And without further ado, here are the latest updates.


In the early 1970s, when Governor Frank Sargent cancelled new highway projects in and around Boston, the Northern Expressway (I-93) in Somerville was allowed to proceed. Since then, automobile traffic on Interstate 93 has caused serious air and noise pollution impacts in our community while forming a barrier between East Somerville, Winter Hill, and the Mystics public housing to the south and Assembly Row, Ten Hills, and the Mystic River to the north.

Meanwhile, the six-lane McGrath Highway (a.k.a. Route 28) further divides our community — walling off East Somerville from the rest of the city and creating treacherous conditions for pedestrians and cyclists trying to get to Foss Park, Stop & Shop, or other nearby locations. These highways are like scars on the local landscape, concrete manifestations of the racist, auto-centric policies of "urban renewal." In addition, Mystic Avenue (Route 38) runs parallel to I-93 in an area that's been deemed "Somerville's most deadly intersection" and one of the "top crash sites" in the state.

I started getting involved in the effort for transportation justice in Somerville about nine years ago. I attended LivableStreets events and learned about the vision for Grounding McGrath and even organized a demonstration to highlight safety concerns along the McGrath Highway back in 2012.

After I was sworn-in to office in 2017, one of my first acts as State Representative was to organize a tour of the East Somerville neighborhood with MassDOT and city officials. I wanted MassDOT to see and feel what East Somerville residents in particular were facing, and I was grateful that Mayor Joe Curtatone, Councilor Matt McLaughlin, and several community leaders from groups like the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership and the Welcome Project joined us to make their voices heard.

In Dec. 2020, MassDOT presented to Somerville residents that urgently needed road safety improvements would be constructed in the summer of 2022 as part of the Rt. 28/38 Intersection Safety Improvements Project. These improvements are intended to address a "Top 200 Crash Location" where three pedestrians have been killed by automobiles in the past two years. However, last month, MassDOT announced the road safety project wouldn’t begin until 2023, and they further revealed that an I-93 Viaduct Preservation Project would begin construction later this year in the very same area. They say the goal of the I-93 project is to "preserve the life of the steel" on the interstate’s automobile viaduct — but I say if they are going to preserve the life of the steel, then they must also take action to preserve the lives of our neighbors.

At present, MassDOT's I-93 project does not include any sound walls to mitigate the impact of noise pollution and the ultrafine particulate matter that has been associated with increases in cardiovascular disease and COVID-19 in the Environmental Justice communities in East Somerville and along Mystic Ave. Fortunately, my $2 million budget amendment for I-93 sound walls in East Somerville was adopted as part of the recent Transportation Bond Bill that Governor Baker signed into law earlier this year. But for this funding to actually be utilized, MassDOT must include it in their pending Capital Investment Plan (“CIP”). Likewise, Rep. Barber and Sen. Jehlen had a $2 million item included in the bond bill to expand upon planned road safety work — but this also requires MassDOT's willingness to program the funding.

Over the past several weeks, I've been intensely focused on working with my colleagues in state and city government and with Somerville residents, organizers, and activists to call on MassDOT to do more to address these concerns. Last week, we hosted a rally featuring Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and some of the friends and family of Rt. 28/38 crash victims, along with advocates for I-93 pollution mitigation. The rally was featured here in the Boston Globe, in, and in the Somerville Journal.

Right now, there's several things you can do to help support this work.

  1. Attend MassDOT's I-93 Viaduct Preservation Project meeting on Tuesday, June 8. It starts at 6 pm and the information is available here.
  2. Send a written comment with respect to MassDOT's draft Capital Investment Plan for FY22. Email [email protected] by Monday, June 14, and ask MassDOT to program the bond authorizations our delegation recently secured (see notes in the paragraphs below).
  3. Send a written comment with respect to the I-93 Viaduct project to MassDOT prior to June 18. Email [email protected] and put "Attention: Major Projects, Project File No. 606528" int the subject line. More background information is available on my State House blog, here and here.

We're asking that MassDOT include in their Capital Investment Plan for FY22 at least $2 million for noise barriers in the vicinity of East Somerville and at least $2 million for improvements to the Rt. 28/38 corridor in Somerville, including dense tree cover along Mystic Avenue and Foss Park and an expanded and accelerated road safety improvement project with elements such as raised crosswalks, sidewalk-level protected bike facilities, ADA-compliant pedestrian ramps, and a road diet for Rt. 28 north of Broadway.

We also ask that MassDOT support making these investments in addition to and as part of the pending $6 million Rt. 28/38 Intersection Improvement Project and the $37 million I-93 Viaduct Preservation project as discussed above. By authorizing the capital investments our legislative delegation secured in the recent Transportation Bond Bill, MassDOT will be able to set an example for achieving equity and justice in densely-populated Environmental Justice communities across the Commonwealth.

Finally, we ask that MassDOT actively support our delegation in urging the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to act on language included in another recent bond bill to install triple-glazed windows as sound mitigation at the state-funded public housing on Mystic Avenue, which is home to hundreds of families who are directly impacted by I-93 pollution. The recently adopted Environmental Justice provisions of the Climate Roadmap Law support these funding requests for pollution mitigation and expanded and accelerated road safety elements as part of MassDOT’s pending projects in the area.


While my previous post highlights a big effort we are marking to improve McGrath Highway and its vicinity north of Broadway in Somerville, I don't want to lose sight of the fact that we recently secured a major victory for road safety on McGrath south of Broadway, all the way down to the Cambridge line.

I'm very pleased to report that MassDOT has responded to a four-page letter I drafted in support of bike and pedestrian safety by agreeing to provide physical separation for the new bike lanes that will be part of the pending road diet and resurfacing project for the McGrath Highway in Somerville.
This latest announcement builds on previous announcements state and city officials have secured, including MassDOT's commitment to substantially reducing the number of automobile travel lanes in the near-term while advancing plans for a green, at-grade boulevard in the medium-to-longer term along Rt. 28 (See:
Thank you to my legislative colleagues Senator Pat Jehlen, Senator Sal DiDomenico, Senator Joe Boncore, Rep. Christine Barber, Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven, and Rep. Jay Livingstone along with Mayor Joe Curtatone and all of the local stakeholders and advocates who have stood together in pushing for these changes, such as Somerville Bicycle Safety, Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership (STEP), and others.
Working together, we continue to advocate for safety improvements to this vital corridor that connects Somerville and Points North with Cambridge and Boston.
To be sure, continued advocacy will be needed in the coming months. MassDOT has proposed having physical separators in place on McGrath from April 15 through November 15, and they also committed to working closely with local stakeholders to determine the details of this implementation. Ultimately we need year-round protection for cyclists — but in my experience, in advocating for bike lanes on the Longfellow and the Charles River Dam Rd, it is typical for MassDOT to commit to seasonal separation before agreeing to year-round separation. So we celebrate another step forward today and look forward to continued advocacy.
Our success in this matter was recently featured here in the Boston Globe. You can also take a look at our letter to MassDOT and their positive response back to us.


Earlier this spring, Senator Sal DiDomenico and I sent a letter to the MBTA Fiscal Management and Control Board to make the case that the 68 bus ought to be restored from recent service cuts given the particular equity concerns of the Port and the Wellington-Harrington neighborhoods in Cambridge. We noted that the Port has the highest proportion of Black residents in the City of Cambridge, and that both the Port and the We-Ha neighborhoods have elevated levels of poverty, making the case for a return of service to the 68 bus on justice and equity grounds.

In turn, I'm pleased to report, that in a subsequent meeting of the Fiscal Management and Control Board, the General Manager of the MBTA personally highlighted my advocacy in support of the 68 bus while promising to restore subway and bus service "as fast as possible." There's more about this announcement here via Cambridge Day. And you can read our original letter to the MBTA's Control Board via this link.


The House of Representatives recently adopted my budget amendment to advance a study of East Cambridge railroad noise mitigation opportunities. This is just one step in the work I've been doing along with Sen. DiDomenico and the City of Cambridge to address this issue since we started getting more complaints about it earlier this year. East Cambridge residents are facing railroad noise from two directions — from the Commuter Rail Maintenance Facility located in Somerville's Inner Belt (where several trains are often kept idling overnight) and along the Grand Junction Railroad track (where trains are often forced to idle while waiting for clearance to proceed over to the maintenance facility).

For a lot more information about this work, please see this post on my State House blog and this story in Cambridge Day.

Part of the problem is that the Commuter Rail Maintenance Facility (also known as the Boston Engine Terminal) serves the entire commuter rail network — and in the absence of a North-South Rail Link (something I strongly support) to connect the southern part of the network with the northern part, trains constantly have to be shuttled across the Grand Junction track. It turns out 2/3rds of the system operates on the South Side of the network, making the location of the only maintenance facility in Somerville really inconvenient and inefficient. For this reason, I have been advocating for the MBTA to construct a second commuter rail maintenance facility on the South Side of the network, and I'm pleased to report that just last week the MBTA's Fiscal Management and Control Board agreed to advance a study to plan for a second maintenance facility.


While we continue to fight for MassDOT to construct I-93 sound walls right now, I'm also pleased to report my amendment to fund a design study for sound walls along I-93 in East Somerville was recently adopted by the House of Representatives.
For years, academic researchers and local advocates such as Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership (STEP) have painstakingly documented how the ultrafine particulate matter that is caused by automobile traffic on I-93 results in documented increases in cardiovascular disease in the East Somerville neighborhood. And the scientists tell us the impact of noise pollution is no less dangerous.
More recently, we can see how I-93 pollution has correlated with higher incidence of COVID-19 in the neighborhood as well. East Somerville is the part of the city that has traditionally been home to immigrants, people of color, and working class families, so that makes this a critical Environmental Justice issue. There are several streets in East Somerville where I-93 literally abuts densely-packed triple deckers at-grade. A great deal of work has been done to document these air pollution impacts and make the case for sound walls in this area, but at present, there isn't even a technical design study that would offer us a path forward. The adoption of this amendment will give us the opportunity to finally start making actionable progress on this issue.
Thank you to Speaker Ron Mariano and House W&M Chair Aaron Michlewitz for working with me to address this environmental justice concern that directly affects Somerville residents who live along the interstate. The Senate took up its own version of the budget last week, and I'm grateful that Sen. Jehlen was able to have language included to support this study as well. Now, a conference committee will be appointed to reconcile the differences between the two branches with a goal of getting a budget to the Governor before the current fiscal year ends on June 30.
For more information about the adoption of this budget amendment, please see this story in the Somerville Journal.


June is upon us and so I want to wish my constituents and everyone across the Commonwealth a very happy Pride Month!

Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2003, and more recently, we in the legislature have taken numerous steps to support the LGBTQ+ community. We recently passed a ban on "conversion therapy" for minors. We passed first-in-the-nation legislation requiring licensed elder service providers to complete comprehensive LGBTQ care training. We also successfully advocated for a nonbinary gender marker on state licenses and IDs.

And yet, despite these steps forward, there is still so much more work to do to achieve true equality and equity for all LGBTQ residents. That's why I put together a blog post to highlight my LGBTQ+ focused advocacy and legislative efforts for the 2021-22 session.

To learn more about my Pride legislative agenda, please see this post on my State House blog.


As Pride Month begins this week, I am also thinking of the fact that here in Massachusetts, there is still no requirement for medically-accurate and LGBTQ-inclusive sex education. For years, legislators have advanced a bill called the Healthy Youth Act to finally address this statewide concern. I am proud to once again be a co-sponsor of the Healthy Youth Act, and I recently offered this written testimony to the Joint Committee on Education in support of the bill.


I’m looking forward to delivering the keynote address at YUM 2021 this evening at 6 pm. YUM is one of my favorite events every year — and a great way to support the work The Welcome Project is doing with Somerville’s immigrant community. To tune in to the virtual event, which will also honor the extraordinary work of Rep. Christine Barber and Laura Rótolo, staff counsel and community advocate at the ACLU of Massachusetts, please purchase a virtual ticket here:

Thank you, as always, for being an informed and engaged constituent!

Yours in service,

Rep. Mike Connolly