‘Count us as very worried’ about Green Line extension project, MBTA official says
MBTA officials said Monday they are concerned about keeping the $2.3 billion Green Line extension project on schedule after being told a key piece of it has fallen months behind.
John Dalton, who is overseeing the 4.7 mile extension, told the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s board that the overall project remains on time and that work crews can catch up before service on the route is scheduled to begin in late 2021.
“The fact that we are two years away from being done with this project means there is time to recover,” Dalton told reporters after the meeting.
But pressure is beginning to build. Work to relocate a set of existing commuter rail tracks that the new line will run alongside is now expected to creep into November — two months after it was originally scheduled, Dalton said. With winter approaching and construction spending expected to swell significantly over the next year, the details left board members uneasy.
“Count us as very worried,” said Joseph Aiello, chair of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board. He later told Dalton: “Throw everything you’ve got at it. I can’t tell you how important it is to get this project on schedule, under whatever means and methods you can.”
The development was just one of several discussed at the board meeting. Officials also announced the debut this week of the first new Orange Line cars and detailed plans to shut down core sections of the most heavily traveled lines on numerous weekends this fall.
T officials also disclosed that they expect to know the root cause of a disruptive June derailment on the Red Line in two weeks, when they will get more answers from an outside lab that’s testing the 50-year-old train involved.
The Green Line extension, a massive undertaking funded by state and federal dollars, will bring service to Somerville and Medford. Roughly $165 million has been spent on construction so far, but that is expected to swell to $400 million in each of the next two years, officials have said.
The project is also a key part of Governor Charlie Baker’s plan for the T. As he announced an $18 billion transportation bond proposal last month — and ticked off projects on the Green Line — Baker called “rescuing” the extension plan the “most significant success of the past four years.”
Aiello on Monday pointed to both the $595 million that Baker carved out for the project in the bond bill and the work the administration did to realign the plan after its estimated costs ballooned to $3 billion.
“He [Baker] and we took a big risk . . . to get this project back on track. And we need to convince the Legislature that we are deserving of the recommendation the governor put in his transportation bill,” Aiello said.
Stephanie Pollack, Baker’s transportation secretary, said the administration expects the project to be completed on time and on budget, and she indicated the latest developments don’t appear to have upended that.
“As we sit here in August 2019, there should be time for recovery from those pressures” on the schedule, she told reporters.
The discussion came on the same day the MBTA detailed another wide-reaching plan. Officials are warning riders about an unprecedented slate of weekend service disruptions this fall as part of the effort to speed up repairs to the aging transit system.
Hundreds of thousands of weekend riders will have to contend with a half-dozen closed stations in downtown Boston and beyond in October, most of November, and into December.
The plan will affect the Orange Line; stations from Tufts Medical Center to Sullivan Square will shut down for six straight weekends in October and November.
After that, the half-dozen Red Line stations from Broadway to Kendall Square will close for two weekends in late November and two weekends in December, with regular service on the weekend after Thanksgiving.
The T will substitute buses for subways, as it will on the Green Line, where it is planning four weekends of shutdowns on the C or B branches. That’s in addition to 14 weeks of previously planned interruptions this fall on the D branch.
The work includes adding signs and cleaning the Park Street and Downtown Crossing stations, in addition to installing thousands of feet of new track on the Red Line, near Downtown Crossing and Park Street, and on the Orange Line.
“We’re hopeful that these sort of short-term diversions result in longer-term benefits for our customers,” Steve Poftak, the MBTA’s general manager, told reporters.
Riders, however, appeared to have mixed views about the news. Tina Smith, of Peabody, said she may not travel to Boston if the T is using buses to replace subway service.
“When I know it’s a shuttle bus, I don’t [bother] with it,” Smith said. “It’s too hectic already when it’s working regularly. I think it’s unnecessary, and it’s going to be very problematic for people that depend on public transit to get to and from work.”
Jamie Kweon, who works in Charlestown, said she sees “many little things going wrong” every week on the T.
“But I don’t know if doing this at this time is the right move,” she said at Downtown Crossing. “I think it’ll cause a lot of inconvenience to people who are already feeling that the MBTA [isn’t] doing enough right now.”
Romie Fulgencio, a nurse, said he takes the subway to Tufts Medical Center and depends on it when he works every other weekend. “I hope they’re going to be effective,” he said of the repairs. But, he added: “I’m probably going to walk to work.”