Steady traffic flows through the confusing intersection in Mattapan of Gallivan Boulevard and Morton Street, both parts of Route 203, a crosstown artery that connects Brookline to I-93. The Y-shaped junction has multiple points of entry, stop signs, pedestrian signals, but no traffic light. Not all vehicles make it through safely.
The Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization designated the intersection as a "high crash location" after conducting a road safety audit in 2014. The audit team noted the intersection's angled geometry and irregular control and enforcement as safety issues. Two dozen collisions were reported there between 2017 and May 2019, including one fatality, according to State Police data obtained by WGBH News.
After more than a decade of meeting, planning and wrangling, the intersection will have new traffic lights within the next year. A $3.2 million state-financed project will also install new sidewalks and bike lanes on a quarter-mile stretch of Morton Street.
MassDOT officials, who announced the final details of the plan last month, say the hazardous intersection will have more visible signs of road work starting after the Fourth of July. The upcoming construction means that a major east-west artery will at times have reduced capacity until construction is finished in the summer of 2020, if the work stays on schedule.
To make the intersection safer, a state contractor will install a new traffic signal and extend a bounding portion of concrete that designers hope will guide approaching cars neatly into traffic lanes. The project will update pedestrian signals and add new street lighting and pavement along Morton Street. Bike lanes will be created at the expense of some resident parking along Morton. The contractor will also be limited to working during non-peak and overnight hours.
The construction plan received mixed reviews from residents who attended a packed meeting at the Harbor Health Services on Morton Street nearby.
“I like the plan,” said Linda Goode, who has lived in the area for more than 20 years. “That intersection has always been an issue, where people do not stop at the sign, and no one knows which direction or when they’re supposed to go.”
Goode, 62, said she has nearly collided with someone else while using the intersection as both a driver and a pedestrian. The area, she said, will benefit from the new traffic controls.
“People will know when it’s their turn to go," she said. "They’ll know who has the right of way and hopefully, they’ll slow down the speed.”
Others were skeptical about the project's ability to keep errant drivers in check.
"We call it the Indy 500," said Sonya Huggins, a Gallivan Boulevard resident. When she hears the screeching of brakes, she anticipates the sound of a collision to follow, Huggins, 55, said.
"Traffic is very heavy, and you have cars that are going 50-plus miles an hour at times," she said. "If you don't control the speed, it's not going to work."
Huggins and former state Rep. Royal L. Bolling Jr. insisted police enforcement needs to accompany the construction work.
Massachusetts State Police Lt. James Bazzinotti, station commander of the Milton Barracks, vowed officers will start enforcing the traffic rules in the area.
State officials said safety was the project's guiding principle.
“I think when the dust settles, people are going to be happy that it’s a safer way to travel, a safer way to commute,” said Sen. Nick Collins, who represents South Boston and part of Dorchester. “The net gain here is far more significant than any net loss, as public safety is the number one goal here.”
When asked about the long wait to address the treacherous intersection, Jim Kersten, deputy chief of staff for MassDOT’s highway division, said: “The community was very well-engaged on this one, and we worked with them closely.”
Kersten noted that the community rejected several designs before the project was extended to include left turn lanes nearby from Morton Street westbound onto West Selden Street and from Morton in the other direction onto Selden Street. Currently, vehicles making those turns create backups.
Steven Capasso, MassDOT district construction engineer, said the contractor is posting construction signage and testing underground utilities “before they get going with the construction” next month.
"I hope it works," Gallivan Boulevard resident Huggins said. "I'm tired of waking up in the middle of the night and hearing someone crash and scream."