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Blue Line riders want quicker ways to get around T's planned 2-year closure of Government Center Station

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  May 7, 2013 03:30 PM

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A map the MBTA created shows recommended options for transferring lines while Government Center Station is closed.

When the MBTA closes Government Center Station for two years starting in September, Blue Line riders are likely to be hit hardest by delays and overall inconvenience.

At a meeting Monday night in East Boston, which is home to five of Blue Line’s 12 stations, residents said they felt the T has not crafted an adequate plan to accommodate Blue Line riders while the busy station at City Hall Plaza is closed.

“We’ve always been shortchanged on the Blue Line,” said 61-year-old neighborhood resident Anthony DiBenedetto, citing how the long-promised project to connect the Blue and Red lines remains stalled indefinitely. “East Boston is an island. We’re stranded here.”

Government Center Station is scheduled to close for an estimated 24 months starting in mid- to late-September so that construction can be done on an estimated $90 million project to renovate and rebuild much of the station. Trains will still be able to bypass, but not stop at, the station.

During the closure, the Blue Line will lose its direct connection to the Green Line, meaning riders wanting to transfer from the Blue to the Green or Red lines will first have to board the Orange Line to connect – or they can choose a number of above-ground options, like walking or riding a shuttle.

Representatives for the T told the East Boston crowd Monday night that, on average, riders who normally use Government Center Station should expect to add an extra 10 minutes to their commutes during the “peak,” or busiest, morning and afternoon hours while the station is closed. Many residents said they expect to experience longer delays.

The T is planning several relief efforts during the closure of Government Center Station: extra trains will run on the C branch of the Green Line; trains on the D branch of the Green Line will run to and from North Station; Bowdoin Station, normally closed on weekends and after 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, will be kept open seven days a week and until the same time other stations close.

And, a special bus route will stop at Government Center, Bowdoin, Haymarket and State stations.

But, Blue Line riders said the majority of those efforts seem to cater more to riders of the T’s other three color-coded lines.

“They accommodate for people coming from Cambridge and Newton and Brookline, but there’s nothing for the Blue Line,” said Neenah Estrella-Luna, an East Boston resident and professor at Northeastern University. “It’s not impossible to make better accommodations.”

Longtime East Boston resident Tina St. Gelais Kelly, 36, said she was bewildered.

“I’ve never seen anything so asinine in my life,” said. “This all just sounds ridiculous. To cut an entire community from the Green Line for two years is crazy to me.”

“They would never do this to Brookline,” she added.

One Blue Line rider asked if more trains would run on the Orange Line. MBTA representatives said there are not enough trains or staff on the Orange Line to increase service there.

Others asked for a shuttle to connect the Blue and Red lines. They suggested that the planned special bus route could simply add Park Street Station to its list of stops. Or another special bus route could run directly between Park Street and State stations. But, T officials said that would not be feasible.

“Everyone wants their own shuttle,” said MBTA official John Romano. “We’re trying to do the best we can with the system. We don’t have unlimited vehicles. We don’t have unlimited money.”

T spokeswoman Kelly Smith said in an e-mail Tuesday that the requests made at Monday night's meeting were similar to prior requests made at a public meeting in December.

"We did review each of them in detail," she said.

Riders have asked for special buses, including between Maverick and Charles/MGH stations; between State and Charles/MGH stations; and between State and Park Street stations, Smith said.

But, she said each of those requested bus routes would be slower than the T's recommendation for riders on the Blue Line to transfer to the Orange Line at State Station then to the Green Line at Haymarket Station.

Plus, said Smith: "The cost of such a service would be prohibitive, and once in place would be difficult to terminate," especially a route between Maverick and Charles/MGH, which "is also more of a Red/Blue connector issue than a Government Center Station issue."

And, "To extend the shuttle in either case would require more buses to cover the extra running time," said Smith. "We have an extremely limited supply of buses during our peak periods and implementing this suggestion could potentially contribute to pulling buses of regularly scheduled routes."

"The frequency and predictability of a surface bus transfer would vary greatly due to traffic, weather, events, etc.," she added. "Also, there is no optimal place to stage a fleet and in the end would not be any faster than using the transfers we have been highlighting."

At Monday's meeting, East Boston resident John Walkey, 42, said of the proposed options for relief: “Obviously they can’t all be done, but they should be considered. I’m sure you’re going to be getting complaints, especially when winter comes and hoofing it is no longer an option.”

Government Center Station is the 13th busiest in the MBTA system, according to the T. On average, 11,315 people enter Government Center Station on weekdays.

The T considered keeping the station open during construction. But, T officials said that option would have cost at least an extra $20 million and the project would have taken about two years longer to complete.

The alternative would have also put passenger safety at increased risk and would have involved frequent changes to boarding areas and accessible routes, at least 24 weekend closures during the just the first year of construction, and closing the station early on some weekdays. Those sporadic service disruptions would be tough for commuters to plan around, T officials said.

"While we understand that the closure of Government Center station could cause an inconvenience to many riders, we hope that they will understand that it will provide long-term, and long-needed, improvements that will be implemented in a much shorter period of time," the T spokeswoman said.

The T has kept stations open through similar projects. But in several cases, completion took significantly longer than expected, at times several years longer, in part because crews had to work around commuters.

In 2011, the T closed ¬Science Park and Lechmere stations for renovations, including accessibility improvements. The projects were completed within the six months officials promised.

The T announced in late-November that it had chosen to close Government Center Station. Boston transportation officials have said the city is also working with the T to notify commuters, residents, and businesses about the plan.

Some from East Boston expressed concern about whether the message will get to the high number of residents in their neighborhood whose primary language is Spanish. And, many worried that by severing the direct Green-to-Blue line tie for two years, East Boston may suffer economically.

“They’re supposed to be doing all this waterfront redevelopment,” said Estrella-Luna. “But how attractive of a place is this going to be if it’s so hard to get here.”

“It’s unfair. This is a very active community. We really do care about our community,” she added. “This is going to make living here that much more difficult.”

Project details

Government Center Station, originally called Scollay Square Station, was built in 1897. It is the third oldest station in the MBTA system.

The last significant modernization was done there 50 years ago, when the station was renamed as the new City Hall was built around it.

The overhaul, the first significant modernization to the Government Center Station in 50 years, will bring it into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and make myriad other improvements.

The most dramatic change will be a tall, glass-lined station entrance, or “headhouse,” emerging from City Hall Plaza. Parts of the ground-level floor of the headhouse will be made of slip-resistant, frosted cubes of glass to allow some light to filter to train platforms below.

Work will include: completely rebuilding Green Line and Blue Line platforms and raising them several inches so the platforms are at the same height as the floors of trains that stop there; overhauling the electrical system; installing new ¬elevators, escalators, LED signs, improved lighting, and an expanded fare collection ¬area with twice as many fare gates.

An abandoned staircase at one end of the Blue Line platform – originally an entrance to the station when it called Scollay Square – will be reconstructed as an emergency exit leading directly from onto a sidewalk along Cambridge Street.

Some of the surrounding parts of Cambridge Street and City Hall Plaza will also see changes, officials said. Traffic islands on Cambridge Street will be narrowed or eliminated altogether in some places, allowing for sidewalks to be widened and bike lanes to be installed. Existing trees on the plaza will be replaced and more new trees will be planted.

Early stages of construction are expected to start in the next month or so. The station is expected to close in mid- to late-September and is scheduled to reopen 24 months later. The project is expected to wrap up in the second quarter of 2016. The T expects federal funding to cover about 80 percent of the cost.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990, the MBTA developed a plan to improve accessibility at key stations, the last of which would be Government Center Station.

In 2006, a settlement was reached in a federal lawsuit filed by 11 individuals and the Boston Center for Independent Living over inadequate accessibility for people with disabilities to MBTA trains and buses. As part of the settlement, the T agreed to build additional elevators at the heavily traveled stations of Harvard, State, Porter, Downtown Crossing, and Park Street.

For more information about the project, click here and here.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at
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A map the MBTA created. The circles surrounding each station each represent an about 4-minute walk. The black dotted line shows the route of a special shuttle bus that will run during the closure of Government Center Station.

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