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Second phase of Silver Line has some headaches

Like the Green Line relocation under the FleetCenter, the $601 million Silver Line bus route from South Station through the South Boston Waterfront has also been overshadowed by the Big Dig. It has a lot in common, however, with the roadway project: It's behind schedule, over budget, and won't be fully operational when it opens later next year.


The project is the second phase in the creation of the Silver Line. The first part is the bus service along Washington Street from Dudley Square to Downtown Crossing. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority ultimately wants to connect that line with the waterfront segment, with an underground tunnel from the Boylston Green Line station down Essex Street to South Station. The goal is a "one-seat ride" from Roxbury to Logan Airport.

The part of the Silver Line that goes through the South Boston Waterfront, also known as the Transitway, has run into engineering complications, because the tunnel for the electrified buses runs under fragile historic buildings at Russia Wharf and under the Fort Point Channel, where three tunnel segments were submerged earlier this year. Workers discovered a giant Ice Age boulder on the floor of the channel that blocked the tunnel.

The project, which has risen in cost from $425 million to $601 million, was supposed to open this year, but will instead open sometime next fall. Much of the tunnel and the major stations, World Trade Center, Courthouse Square, and South Station are almost entirely completed.

The tunnel consists of two lanes in each direction for electrified buses, powered through an overhead catenary wire like the buses that run out of Harvard Square. Hybrid vehicles that can also run on compressed gas are required for travel on surface streets and through the Ted Williams Tunnel. They will not be ready the day the Silver Line opens, MBTA officials said. Service will initially run from South Station, under Northern Avenue (now Seaport Boulevard) to the new federal courthouse (Courthouse Square), and on to the World Trade Center.

Ultimately, the Silver Line will provide a new way to get to downtown from Logan terminals, on buses that will travel through the Ted Williams Tunnel, enter the new bus route at the World Trade Center station at Congress and D streets, and on to South Station.

Together with the $325 million Green Line relocation under the FleetCenter, the Silver Line through the Seaport represents nearly $1 billion in transit investments. The proposed Boylston-South Station tunnel for the Silver Line will cost $1 billion more. The T has plans for hundreds of millions more for expansion of the system, much of which is required under a 1990 agreement that cleared the way for construction of the $14.6 billion Big Dig.

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