Remove McGrath

Update - McGrath Project featured on the Congress for the New Urbanism blog 'Highways to Boulevards'
June 12, 2013

Breaking News, March 8, 2013: McGrath to become more livable! >>>

Grounding the McGrath video made by two LivableStreets volunteers>>

Strengthening Communities from the Charles River to the Mystic River.
Imagine the possibilities! What would you like in the McGrath Corridor?


The McGrath/O'Brien Highway is a section of Massachusetts State Route 28. It passes through densely populated residential areas of Cambridge and Somerville. McGrath Highway severs Environmental Justice neighborhoods and is a large source of linear pollution, severely affecting the quaility of life for the more than 3,000 people who live directly adjacent.

LivableStreets has launched the Remove McGrath Campaign to advocate for the immediate removal of the McCarthy Overpass section of McGrath Highway as the first step in reconnecting the neighborhoods along the corridor and building safe, livable, neigborhood streets for all. There are currently more than 20 direct and adjacent projects along the McGrath/O'Brien corridor from the Charles River to the Mystic River. Now is our chance to guide a vision for a rebuilt roadway that favors the communities it travels through.

LivableStreets has 20 Street Ambassadors who have been out at community events and at McGrath passing out citizen information handouts and collecting postcards addressed to MassDOT Secretary Davey and Somerville Mayor Curtatone asking to Remove McGrath. Help collect postcards by emailing

LivableStreets Alliance has also created a coalition of community, environmental, transportation, and health advocates from Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and Medford who all support a new vision to reunite and reinvigorate our communities.  

Check out this video to hear thoughts from people passing through the area how it feels now and what it could be!

LivableStreets has pushed for a a broader public discussion on the future of McGrath Highway. We continue to engage our state legislators, the City, and MassDOT to focus their energies around this issue. A May 2012 public meeting brought out nearly 200 participants, broadly declaring "Take It Down Now."

Our StreetTalk Remove McGrath: How overpasses are so 1950s on in June 2012 at was given to overflowing crowds at Brickbottom Lofts in Somerville.  Join us in this fight for what is fair and what is economically and environmentally the right thing to do now, not decades in the future.

The History of McGrath Highway
The route was created in the early 1800's as a turnpike from Boston to the northern outlying towns. Originally, it was a network of walkable city streets before crossing the Mystic River into Medford.

In the 1950's, large sections of neighborhoods along the route in Somerville were demolished to make way for a new elevated highway called the McCarthy Overpass that divided the city in two, choking off access to employment, commercial development and access to recreation and schools. To the north and south of the elevated portion, the road was enlarged to up to eight lanes. Neighborhood streets were blocked from accessing the new road. Hundreds of acres of land were cut off from the rest of the city and surrounding towns. This early experiment in urban highway building quickly failed, and by the 1970's Interstate 93 had been constructed to the east to new safety standards, effectively rendering the roadway obsolete as a regional corridor.

In the intervening years, little attention has been given to maintain McGrath Highway. Specifically, the elevated portion has reached the end of its useful life. We are at a decision point: Do we continue to pour money into infrastructure that has declining users, is an impediment to strong neighborhoods, divides communities and stifles employment and commerical activity? Or do we stop wasting money and instead take down the elevated highway immediately and return the corridor to a network of walkable city streets and bring back the neighborhoods?

McGrath Highway is universally dispised, by people who drive it, walk around it, bike on it and use public transit near it. The numbers prove this; Since the 1990's, traffic volumes have been dropping precipitously on McGrath Highway. Though it was built as a highway, it now acts as a city street carrying approximately the same amount of traffic as a tree-lined, sidewalk and bike lane complete Massachusetts Ave. through the Back Bay neighborhood in downtown Boston. License plate studies show that 70% of the drivers using the roadway between the Charles and Mystic rivers are local drivers. Couldn't it feel as inviting, full of businesses and homes, and trees?

Check out Atlantic Cities article on urban highway removal in Boston

Guiding Goals from a Unified Coalition
We have formulated a set of five common values that each of our groups will push for:

  • Reunite neighborhoods cut apart by the highway.
  • Humanize the space by lowering traffic speeds, reducing noise and pollution, narrowing lane width, and reducing the current six (or more) lanes to four.
  • Safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and bus riders must be improved to make traveling across and along the corridor more inviting.
  • Green the corridor with more trees, grass, storm-water drainage, and other green features.
  • Economic development will flourish, encouraging local retail and job-creating businesses; including crafts-based and green-economy enterprises.

The coalition is working to shape streets in the McGrath/O'Brien Corridor to make the surrounding communities more livable, healthy, and prosperous.

Where will the traffic go?

Over the past decade, traffic has decreased by 15% on McGrath Highway, and it will continue to decrease as the Green Line Extension opens. License plate studies show that most drivers using McGrath are from Somerville or neighboring cities. It is a city street disguised as a highway. Most of the traffic is local, from Somerville and neighbor communities. And a lot of the traffic are drivers trying to make short trips between neighborhoods. Much of the traffic may even be caused by the inefficient highway design, forcing everyone in the area to use a single road.

McGrath doesn't need to be a highway. It would serve everyone better if it returned to what it was built on top of: Medford Street, Somerville Ave and Washington Street -- important historic cooridors that connect neighborhoods and could act as spines of innovation, employment and safe, walkable residential communities.

The existing road is ugly and hard for everybody to use.

Could it be stores, schools, homes and offices?

Or could parts of the extra space include a new park?

The McCarthy Overpass: A Critical Section
The elevated highway running from Somerville Ave in the northward to near the Highland Ave intersection is one section of the McGrath/O'Brien corridor where we can make an immediate positive change toward the larger vision. Called the McCarthy Overpass, MassDOT could repair or ground this section. Repairing it would only be a temporary fix and this would keep a dangerous highway in place and deciding the future of how 3,000 people living near McGrath Highway will be impacted for more than 10 years. LivableStreets is working with a group of community adovcates to stop proposed repairs of the overpass and instead implement immediate solution. These changes will be a step toward making the area safer for people who drive, walk, bike and take public transit.

Update on McCarthy, March 8, 2013 >>>

Roads should serve people and their communities
McGrath acts as a barrier to local people driving across town. It isolates a third of families in Somerville, cutting access to local shopping and employment. It decreases access to transit riders by making it difficult to get to bus stops and the new T stops.

Save tax dollars and keep cars moving
MassDOT should spend $11-million to ground the elevated highway and design the future street.

Somerville deserves fair treatment
The community has requested the removal of the overpass instead of its repair, similar to the Casey Overpass in Jamaica Plain and Sullivan Square Overpass in Charlestown.


  1. Speak out at public meetings and make the points that Community connections should be restored, noise and pollution should be reduced, and the road should be safe and inviting for all users.
  2. Volunteer: Become a Street Ambassador and get the word out about the McGrath Highway. Email:
  3. Tell 5 people about upcoming public meetings. The more people who attend and speak up the better. Make your voice heard.
  4. Become a member. Join the growing community of people of invested in creating safe streets and livable communities.
  5. Read and share our Remove McGrath Citizen Information Handout:
  6. Like this campaign on Facebook!

May 29, 2012 Action E-lert
June 1, 2012 Action E-lert

Take action / get involved
Support the effort, join LivableStreets today.
For more information, and to get involved, contact

Related Projects
There are over 20 projects along or near the corridor that will affect how it develops over time. A few key projects are:

1. Grounding McGrath: Determining the Future of Route 28
MassDOT is currently looking at what to do with the McCarthy Overpass, the elevated section of Route 28 that divides Union Square and East Somerville. Should it be removed altogether or should a new overpass be built in its place? A Working Group was formed in July 2011 and will meet for approximately one year. LivableStreets has a representative on the Working Group.
2. Green Line Extension/Community Path Extension
3. NorthPoint Development
4. New bike lanes on Washington St, Medford St, and Somerville Ave
5. Union Square Transportation Plan
6. Broadway East Somerville Reconstruction
7. I-93/Mystic Ave Interchange Study
8. Assembly Square Redevelopment