By Matthew McLaughlin
Much attention has been devoted to building the Green Line Extension to curb air pollution and reduce traffic. An unspoken reality, however, is that residents of East Somerville living adjacent to I93 (with over 200,000 cars per day) will not benefit from the Green Line Extension in reducing air pollution. Although the GLX will not offset I93 traffic pollution, installing sound walls will reduce exposure to highway pollution and also reduce the impact of noise from vehicles traveling on the highways.
Numerous studies indicate that sound barriers are a quick and relatively cost effective method to reduce highway pollution exposure. The Boston Globe reported on Dec. 20, 2009 that sound barriers can reduce pollution up to 50 percent. “I would certainly be appreciative of it, I think, if I was living within 100 yards of a heavily traveled road,’’ said Dennis Finn, a research meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Air Resources Laboratory. “A sound barrier would reduce your exposure for sure.’’
East Somerville and Mystic Avenue are well within 100 feet of I93. The highway literally cut right through the neighborhood in the 1970’s. Homes were taken and one of the best neighborhoods in the city now has disproportionately higher rates of cancer due to this injustice. At the time I93 was built residents asked that it be constructed below rather than above the neighborhood. They also asked for sound barriers.
Yet somehow East Somerville was denied something that would have an immediately positive effect on our neighbor’s lives. This offense is visible on any trip down I93. Sound barriers line I93 through Medford and into Ten Hills, then disappear in East Somerville, only to reappear at the Charlestown line.
This issue has been addressed numerous times by city and state officials. I submitted numerous orders requesting our state delegation fight for sound barriers. State Sen. Pat Jehlen even earmarked funding in the state budget for sound barriers.
Despite unanimous support from the Board of Aldermen and our state delegation, our repeated requests have been ignored or outright rejected. A reply from MassDOT after my first request for sound barriers left us bewildered and angered. Their response claimed that state regulations do not allow them to build sound barriers for air pollution. Further, there is a list for sound barrier construction and new construction projects take precedence. We were told that the money Sen. Jehlen earmarked did not necessarily exist, something I still can’t understand.
We are tired of waiting and dealing with unacceptable bureaucratic responses to something that can preserve human life. This, along with the decades long struggle for the GLX, indicate a lack of respect for the well being of our community.
I will submit yet another request for sound barriers at this week’s Board of Aldermen meeting. The time has come for action and not excuses on this vital endeavor. I know I can count on my colleagues for full support. What we need is for Gov. Charlie Baker and MassDOT to move on this. I encourage everyone to call Gov. Baker’s office at 617-725-4005 and MassDOT at 857-DOT-INFO and demand sound barriers along I93 for the welfare of our community.