$32m project along Cummins Highway set to start in April

A rendering of the final design for Cummins Highway at Rugby Road, showing a thinner roadway, larger sidewalks, and raised crosswalks.

A long-awaited $32 million public works project aimed at improving safety and access along Cummins Highway will begin by mid-April, according to city officials who briefed members of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council on the plan on Monday evening.

Jeffrey Alexis, chief design engineer for the Public Works Department (PWD), said a contractor has been selected and work is slated to begin on April 16. The project, he said, would stretch out over two seasons, with a completion anticipated by late 2025.

“It will be the first significant improvement to the corridor since 1955, when they came in and removed the trolleys in the median,” said Alexis.

McCourt Construction will carry out the project along Cummins from Fairway Street to Wood Avenue. It will include full-depth reconstruction and repaving of the roadway, building wider sidewalks, replacing existing traffic signals with more modern equipment, introducing safer crosswalks, new street lighting, separated bike lanes, 115 new street trees, installing raised crosswalks at all side street entrances, and building a unique roundabout at the complicated Weybosset/Greenwood Street intersection.

Attendees on the virtual GMNC meeting were able to see final design renderings during the discussion.

A key component will be the removal of the median strip that currently bisects the road, with a new-and-improved road going down to one lane in each direction.

“This infrastructure was built as a highway for those passing through the neighborhood. … It was not built for the residents of Mattapan,” said Alexis. “We are rebuilding this street for generations to come – for the residents and the people that live on Cummins Highway. Mattapan has a lot of homeowners who have been here a long time and will be here in the future. This project is for you.”

Along the Cummins corridor, residents can expect to see a thinner roadway for vehicles, but brighter lighting, better sidewalks, and a bike lane built on porous materials to enhance drainage via green infrastructure. The city is stressing it will be a “tree-lined” corridor that won’t be as stark and uninviting for those using it.

There will also be raised crosswalks on each side street coming into the corridor so that drivers and cyclists will have to slow down to enter the Cummins roadway.

“If they try to enter or exit the corridor at a high speed, they will just damage their vehicles,” said Alexis.

The project ends at Fairway Street, and the ongoing Blue Hill Avenue re-design project will pick up at that point when the eventual rehab of Mattapan Square is finished. However, Alexis said, they will keep two lanes of traffic open to and from Mattapan Square from Fairway Street.

During a pilot project in 2020 using temporary features like flex-posts and water-filled barriers, he said, the city learned that to keep traffic moving, they need those two lanes going into the Square.

“We want people to slow down in their vehicles and we want it to be safer for pedestrians, but we still want to move traffic through,” he said.

The project team began working on a plan to re-design Cummins Highway in 2019 with three meetings at the Mattahunt Community Center that did not go very well initially. That led to the pilot program in 2020 that got mixed reviews, but helped the city learn what does and doesn’t work. That was followed by exhaustive community conversations through 2021 and 2022 – with 12 detailed meetings on various subjects like traffic movements, public art, and safety for the elderly and disability community. It was the most engagement, Alexis said, he has ever seen in a city project.

From those meetings and the pilot they learned a lot, he noted. They found that drivers would use the side streets along Cummins Highway, particularly south of the corridor, as cut-throughs to avoid traffic calming. He said the city has committed to installing speed humps through its Safety Surge initiative on all those streets as an adjunct to the overall project. Similarly, they learned that the side streets on both sides of the corridor are in rough shape, with neglected roadways and, in some cases, no sidewalks. He said that after this project, or maybe during it, the city will to rebuild those streets.

One point of concern from many at the online meeting was pedestrian safety at the new roundabout planned for Weybosset/Greenfield. While that intersection will be made much easier for vehicles and cyclists, there was concern from several attendees that pedestrians at the unsignalized crossings would be in danger.

At Rockingham Street, new separated bike lanes and wider pedestrian walkways with much brighter lighting will help prioritize the corridor for residents and not commuters, city officials said. Renderings courtesy City of Boston

“The crosswalk looks very close to the roundabout and the closeness of that pedestrian crosswalk to drivers coming off the roundabout is where I’m concerned,” said Mattapan resident Ruth Georges.

Added Gisella Soriano: “I echo the concern about the roundabout. Yield signs should be placed there absolutely….at a minimum because otherwise people are not going to yield. I’d like to get a better understanding of this.”

Lokita Jackson said she has witnessed several “horrible, horrible” accidents where drivers have hit people at unsignalized intersections on Blue Hill Avenue. She suggested yield signs with flashing lights, known as Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacons (RRFBs) that blink robustly when pedestrians are using the crosswalk.

“I go to other neighborhoods in Boston and I know I have seen these flashing lights when pedestrians are in the crosswalks,” she said.

Alexis said their analysis did not reveal a need for RRFBs on the corridor, but neighbors were adamant that they would like to see them added within or after the project.

Other pinch points identified during the GMNC meeting were the two funeral homes on the corridor, particularly the George Lopes home. Both businesses rely on Cummins Highway for parking during services. While the city is not eliminating any “legal parking spots” on the corridor, illegal parking will now become impossible.

“This is not going to work for the funeral homes,” said resident Aretha Mauge. “Agreed,” said Alexis. “George Lopes Funeral Home, they don’t currently have legal parking on Cummins Highway…They have been parking on Hollingsworth Street and illegally parking on Cummins Highway. We’re not maintaining or removing any legal parking in regard to the funeral home.”

The GMNC and the city did commit to including both funeral homes in upcoming discussions about the project and in the Construction Management Plan – which has yet to be hammered out and will determine the details and order of construction.
Alexis assured residents that the new configuration will handle traffic volumes on the corridor and will allow the 10,000 to 18,000 vehicles per day to “flow efficiently” alongside the new amenities.

Subscribe to the Dorchester Reporter