Floodless Coup for Somerville Avenue – Infrastructure Investment Pays Dividends

SOMERVILLE, Massachusetts – Water, water everywhere…except on Somerville Avenue.

The weekend storm that flooded basements and closed roadways all across New England caused barely a ripple on Somerville Avenue, which has historically been a watery nightmare for city residents and area businesses during even moderate rainfalls.

A vital commercial roadway that connects Porter Square and Union Square, Somerville Avenue is undergoing a massive reconstruction project that has included replacement of its antiquated underground infrastructure. Design of this major roadway improvement project, led by Somerville-based Design Consultants, Inc. (DCI), was completed in 2007 with construction anticipated to end this spring.

The $20 million project passed its first major test last weekend when the oft-flooded roadway held up remarkably well under almost 10 inches of rain. This on a street that many once called “Lake Somerville” during major storms, and that experienced manhole covers blowing off due to the pressure on the drains, sinkholes, and frequently flooded businesses all along the route.

While everyone can see the results of the reconstruction project in terms of beautification, traffic flow and now flood mitigation, the unseen aspects of the work may be even more important, says David Giangrande, president of Design Consultants.

The old combined sewer system was over 100 years old, and it couldn’t handle a heavy rainfall,” says Giangrande, whose business has been in Somerville since its founding in 1980. “The water would push right through the manhole covers and catch basins, resulting in untreated sewerage flooding onto the street. I hate to think of what would have happened on Somerville Avenue in this storm if we hadn’t rebuilt the system.”

DCI’s design work for Somerville Avenue included the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the existing brick arch combined sewer system, a new five- to seven-foot drainage system, new water mains and rehabilitation of separated sewers, full depth roadway reconstruction, and sidewalk and pedestrian improvements. The roadway drainage and signal improvements were paid for by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, while the sewer and water improvements were funded by the City of Somerville through MWRA.

In recent years, many other documented incidences of serious flooding occurred during storms that were far less intense than the one this past weekend. In a 2005 report to the City of Somerville, DCI reported that “between 1994 and 2000, a partial history of DPW records indicates that significant flooding occurred at least 18 times over a six-year period. In recent year, it has been observed that significant flooding still occurs at an approximate rate of three times per year.”

Conversely, following the weekend storm, a local newspaper blog reported: “These past few days, Somerville Avenue didn’t turn into Lake Somerville. The intersection of Medford Street and School Street wasn’t a wading pool. Dozens of other locations across the city didn’t flood out roadways for the first time in many, many years. That’s progress.”

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