Where the rubber hits the road

On September 24, 2010, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

By Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)

Few things in municipal government attract more attention and stir up more emotions than roadwork. It’s no exaggeration to say that the biggest problem in the city for many people is the pothole closest to your home.

And the only thing that comes close to being as bad as that pothole, or that chewed up road surface, is when the construction crews come in to fix it. Construction means parking restrictions, road closures, traffic and delays. It is the classic case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Roadwork has the remarkable ability to make almost no one happy.

Yet it’s one of the most important tasks for city government. Good roads and inviting streetscapes help local businesses attract customers. Good roads also make for more appealing, safer neighborhoods. No one wants to live on a street that’s fallen into complete disrepair. It invites neglect to sweep through the neighborhood.

Of course, it’s one thing to know intellectually that a road project is necessary and another to contain your emotions at the inconvenience of having it done. The perfect example is the work we did on Somerville Avenue this summer. Before the work started, I doubt you could find many people who would have told you Somerville Avenue didn’t need an extreme makeover. It was beyond repaving. We had to re-do the road bed, the traffic flow, the crosswalks, the streetscape, the underground utilities, the street lights, everything.

Now that the work is coming to a close, it’s going to be much better for everyone who travels or owns a business along that corridor. By the way, this is federal and state money creating good paying construction jobs in your community. The federal and state government have been delivering infrastructure that will help this city generate jobs and growth well into the future. We have material proof right here in Somerville. Major work also is being done to re-engineer Assembly Square Drive in advance of major redevelopment in that area of the city.

But it was a long, hot and, for some, miserable summer getting here. I don’t know if I went anywhere during the last three months and didn’t hear about Somerville Avenue. We had hundreds of calls about that project to our 311 City Information line. We even had residents write letters complaining about Somerville Avenue construction when they did things like pay their motor vehicle excise tax.

One of the chief complaints was the raised crosswalks during the construction. We had to provide intact crosswalks so that people could safely cross the street. And that meant a bumpy ride until we could lay down the new road.

A lot of people were convinced we were installing permanent speed bumps and no amount of putting the plans online was going to change their minds. All they knew is they were driving down Somerville Avenue and it was bumpy. Hopefully, the complete, unbumpy roadway will calm their fears.

We have a laundry list of other road projects we plan to do during the next year. Somerville is an older city that needs updated infrastructure. It is also densely populated, which means our streets get used more heavily than in other cities and towns – causing them to wear down faster and forcing more people to adjust when those streets are under construction. It all adds up to a never-ending process of road repair. Yet I prefer to be damned if I do when it comes to fixing our streets.

Those streets keep us moving, and there’s simply too much activity going on in Somerville to be slowed down by a bunch of roadways gone to rot.


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