The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will provide shuttle bus service to Somerville’s 18th annual “What The Fluff” Festival on Sept. 23, while Green Line service to Union Square Station is shut down for the second year in a row, transportation officials said in a public meeting on Tuesday.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation notified the public on Aug. 30 that Squires Bridge, which sits above the Green Line tracks, must undergo construction to repair beam ends. During the 25-day diversion, which will begin on Sept. 18, Green Line service to Union Square will end at Lechmere Station.
Economic empowerment nonprofit Union Square Main Streets and the Somerville Arts Council host the Fluff Festival each year as a tribute to the invention of marshmallow fluff in Somerville. The event, which is free to attend, expects over 20,000 attendees and hosts over 60 vendors, said Jessica Eshleman, executive director of Union Square Main Streets.
Immediately after the construction project was announced by MassDOT, Eshleman contacted elected officials to negotiate an alternative arrangement.
“Knowing that this was the second year that we were going to have this situation that we experienced last year, it was urgent that we wave the flags,” Eshleman said. “Union Square Main Streets understands that public safety is paramount … we know that the bridge has to be fixed … if that is the need, is there a way that we can find a compromise, maybe a ‘meet in the middle’ solution here?”
The shuttles will run the day of the festival directly from East Somerville Station to the Fluff Festival about 10 to 15 minutes apart. There will also be vehicles compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act available throughout the entire 25-day diversion, running between Lechmere Station and Union Square on an on-call basis for those who need accommodation.
“When we announced the diversion, we became more aware of the potential impacts to the Fluff Festival,” District 4 Highway Director Paul Stedman said in the meeting Tuesday. “So, we worked with the Union Square Main Streets group to be able to provide these shuttles.”
Eshleman said she appreciated that MassDOT, the MBTA, state officials and the Mayor’s office were quick to respond and make a compromise.
“Leaders came to the table, recognized a challenge and came up with a solution that addresses as [many] of the concerns as is feasibly possible,” Eshleman said. “And for that, this is a win.”
The diversion was originally planned to begin July 18 and last 42 days, but Somerville city officials and interested stakeholders expressed concerns about the length of the impact and MassDOT postponed the project, officials said at the meeting.
“Obviously this is not something that is ideal, and we understand that,” MBTA Assistant General Manager for External Affairs, Angel Donahue-Rodriguez said in the meeting. “We worked really hard to ensure that we went from 42 days over to 25 … this is work that’s critically necessary.”
At the meeting, Rep. Mike Connolly addressed MassDOT and the MBTA for their work in minimizing potential impacts during the construction.
“It’s worth remembering that Somerville is the most densely populated city in the state and these are environmental justice communities, so maintaining consistent transit service is a matter of equity, so thank you [MassDOT and MBTA] for looking into that,” Connolly said.
Eshleman emphasized the importance of the Fluff Festival by explaining three of Union Square Main Streets’ goals, the first being to provide an inclusive space for the neighborhood by making the festival free for attendees.
“It’s important that you can come to this festival and have a wonderful four hours and not spend a dollar, if you don’t have a dollar,” Eshleman said.
The festival’s second goal is “spotlighting and showcasing” the local small businesses that will be vendors, and the third is to “celebrate the spirit” of Somerville, Eshleman said.
“For us, to be able to showcase a variety of performers on the stage, and artists with our placemaking activities and our public art, we are able to really honor and pay tribute to that spirit that runs so strong throughout Somerville throughout the entire year,” Eshleman said.
Eshleman said she was ultimately grateful that a solution was found and thanked Connolly and MassDOT officials for their work.
“It is such a victory, and we don’t get these stories told very often,” Eshleman said. “We only hear the ones about when things go not well … There can be wins when we work together.”