On Monday, the MBTA announced a $27.5 million plan for an accelerated repair project that will require rail service interruptions along the Red, Orange, and Green lines on multiple weekends after Labor Day through December.
The agency’s rationale for implementing the weekend closures in lieu of overnight work is that they will shorten the overall project timelines, allowing for the completion of ten intersection updates in five fewer months than originally planned.
Workers will replace 7,000 feet of track— including hard-to-reach sections in downtown that haven’t been updated in over 30 years and address Americans with Disabilities Act compliance issues at seven stations.
According to the T, these projects will mitigate the risk of service interruptions, improve safety, on-time performance, and accessibility for passengers. The Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) approved the accelerated plans at its meeting on Monday.
“We know that diversions in service are an inconvenience in the short term, but these shutdowns will allow us to quicken the pace of investments in the system more efficiently and effectively,” MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said in a statement. “We’ve heard loud and clear that we need to accelerate the pace of improvements. This is an especially important opportunity for the MBTA to replace track in areas that aren’t accessible to work crews without these shutdowns.”
The Red Line will see shutdowns between Broadway and Kendall over the course of four consecutive weekends from Nov. 16 through Dec. 15, excluding Thanksgiving weekend. Work at Park Street and Downtown Crossing stations will take place during these four weekends, including improvements to the condition and appearance of each station, upgraded wayfinding and signage in compliance with accessibility standards, cleaning work, painting, and other needed repairs.
“[There are] about 900 feet of track along the Red Line that we haven’t replaced in about 30 years,” Poftak added. “When we get the opportunity to reach that area, we have to take it.”
Service on the Orange Line will be closed between Tufts and Sullivan Station for six straight weekends – Oct. 5-6, Oct. 12-13, Oct. 19-20, Oct. 26-27, Nov. 2-3, and Nov. 9-10.
Improvements will include replacing 2,250 feet of track at three different Orange Line stations, cleaning and painting Chinatown Station, and repairing stairs and tiles.
Closures are set for the Green Line, where the C branch (to Cleveland Circle) will be offline an extra weekend (Oct. 26 and 27), and the B branch (Comm. Ave/BC) will see shutdowns on Sept. 7 and 8, Nov. 2 and 3 and Nov. 23 and 24.
Green Line D (Riverside) shutdowns are scheduled for the weekends of Sept. 14-15, Sept. 21-22, Sept. 28-29, Oct. 5-6, Oct. 12-13, Oct. 26-27, Nov. 2-3, Nov. 9-10, Nov. 16-17, Nov. 23-24, Dec. 7-8, Dec. 14-15, Dec. 21-22, and Dec. 28-29.
The T will provide replacement buses for passengers while construction is under way. Officials expect that the diversions will add about 20 minutes to passenger travel times.
According to the agency, the matter of safety is a critical element of management efforts. “Safety is our No. 1 priority here at the MBTA; it’s foremost in our mind. Our Safety Team has developed initiatives to create a program that engages all of our employees in [a new] safety management system,” Poftak said.
Officials have been under public pressure to address the frequency of disruptions on the MBTA. Six passenger trains have derailed this year, according to the State House News Service, including the major Red Line incident on June 11 at JFK station that damaged signal infrastructure and continues to confront riders with delays.
In June, Governor Charlie Baker’s administration rolled out an $8 billion, five-year plan to modernize the T. Transportation officials said the plan would to improve the system faster.
In a statement to the Reporter, Mayor Martin Walsh said that he “looks forward to the State completing this necessary work.”.
“Boston has been calling for a more reliable, more accessible MBTA, and this acceleration plan is a first step towards better service.” Walsh said. “It is imperative that this work happen efficiently and with as little disruption as possible.”
State Rep. Russell Holmes, who represents parts of Dorchester and Mattapan in the Legislature, said it was “smart” of the MBTA to get the work done before winter.
“It’s about time that they take the extraordinary measures that are needed in these extraordinary circumstances,” Holmes said. “I think folks have had enough of feeling like the systems weren’t working well.”
“MBTA customers deserve public transportation that is reliable,” said State Representative Dan Cullinane. “If these improvements and upgrades are going to deliver the results the MBTA has promised then they should be done as soon as humanly possible. There is no question that scheduled disruptions everyone can plan around are preferable to the unpredictable and dangerous system failures like the delays and derailments that have dominated recent months. For me, the MBTA getting this work done can’t happen fast enough.”
State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz said weekend T closures will “cause a lot of real pain for people.”
Chang-Diaz said that the closures will affect low-income passengers who may not be able to afford other forms of transportation more severely. She called the plan “a choice between multiple bad options.”
“There’s no reason it had to be this way, the situation we find ourself in now is due to years of deferred maintenance. Deferring maintenance is a habit that State leaders need to break,” Chang-Diaz said.
City Councillor Annissa Essaibi-George told the Reporter: “Work needs to happen to improve the MBTA but in our 21st century economy, the accelerated work schedule will have a detrimental impact on our service force with nontraditional hours.”
The MBTA is in the process of preparing another aggressive schedule of shutdowns for the 2020 construction season that may include weekday shutdowns in addition to a greater frequency of weekend shutdowns. Details of this plan are expected to be shared with the public later this year.
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“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Massachusetts to take a quantum leap or two on some of the things that voters have been telling Beacon Hill for a long time that they want to see us do,” Chang-Díaz said.