photo by Chris Devers
One of the things I hear about the most is the condition of Highland Avenue. Anyone who has driven on it in recent years can tell you how terrible the roadway conditions are, between potholes and a wavy, uneven surface due to having been dug up for utility work below. Highland Ave become an evergreen joke on social media, and has attracted regional media attention -- including an NECN segment and a Boston Globe article this week. Fortunately, the City confirmed this week that the eastern portion of the street is scheduled for a badly-needed partial repaving in "early summer 2024," once the utility work underneath it is done.
Eversource is digging up Highland Ave to replace the gas main between Benton Road and School Street this winter and spring. Once that final phase of the utility upgrades on eastern Highland Ave is complete, there will be what is known as "partial paving" of the two travel lanes between the McGrath Highway and Central Street. This means that the sides of the street that are home to street parking and loading zones will not be paved yet. They will need to wait for the full redesign project for the street, with that process now scheduled to resume in 2025.
While the firm commitment to partial paving is certainly welcome news, it's incredibly frustrating that the Highland Avenue Redesign Project began in late 2021 wasn't resumed earlier. This would've allowed us to commence with the full reconstruction of the street as soon as the utility work was done, potentially saving us significant money if we end up having to completely tear up and resurface that re-paved portion of the street in a few years' time. We could've completed that public process during this period of utility work to ensure the project was ready to go this summer.
In addition to the western part of Highland Ave remaining pock-marked by potholes, we're also now stuck waiting for some potential key changes, like a decision on making the last two blocks of Highland Ave in Davis Square two ways. This is an important possible change, because it would a) make that stretch of the street safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers; and b) unlock the future possibility of pedestrianizing Elm Street, should planned developments in Davis Square that would create parking and loading zones for businesses accessed from side streets end up proceeding.
The conversation over the Highland Ave redesign will be a contentious one. But after a 2.5-year delay, I believe the community is ready to do this. I didn't understand the original decision to pause the process when the new administration came in, and I definitely don't understand the reluctance to pick it back up any time soon. Let's please get the ball rolling again and move forward with a really important streets project.
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