Calling for priority bus lanes to accommodate diverted Orange Line and Green Line riders

AUGUST 6, 2022

Dear Cambridge and Somerville Constituents:

On Wednesday, when Governor Baker announced an unprecedented 30-day shut down of the Orange Line, I made the following statement:

"Seven and a half years into the Baker Administration’s tenure, and the MBTA is completely broken. It took the Federal Transportation Administration to get to truth of the safety crisis. Hopefully this is rock bottom, and from here we improve. Replacement shuttle buses must be free and given priority on the roads."

I figured it couldn't get much worse than this — but sure enough, things did get worse.

On Thursday, an MBTA bus caught fire in Jamaica Plain, sending two heroic bus workers to the hospital with smoke inhalation. As of this writing, one worker remains hospitalized.

Then yesterday, another bombshell. The MBTA announced a 28-day shutdown of the Green Line north of Government Center, including the newly-opened Green Line Extension branch to Union Square. According to the T:

From August 22 through September 18, shuttle buses will replace Green Line service between Union Square and Government Center. During this time, we'll help connect GLX Medford Branch, install noise walls & repair a slow zone while allowing developer to demolish Government Center Garage.

Okay, now this is total madness!

Upon learning this news, I immediately had so many questions. How can the T shutdown the northern Green Line at the same time as the Orange Line? What about the $80 million settlement agreement that put the risk of project closeout on the design-build contractor, GLX Constructors? And why are the needs of a real estate developer being cited as a reason for the Green Line shutdown?

I've been in touch with MBTA officials, the GLX team, legislative leaders and colleagues, and local officials and city staff over the past few days — and so far I've been able to gather some decent answers on at least some (but not all) of my questions.

Apparently work on the Lechmere Viaduct catenary lines is still incomplete — so the pending GLX shutdown will allow time for work to improve a current slow zone, thereby allowing trains to increase speed from 7-10 mph to 25 mph in that area. Signaling integration and testing with the Medford Branch, along with remaining sound wall installation and other work is also planned.

Meanwhile, under last year’s closeout agreement with GLX Constructors (approved on 6/21/21 by the Fiscal Management Control Board), there were provisions for $16 million in incentive payments that the contractors will now have to forgo. Moreover, I am told the GLX contractors are now being subject to liquidated damages for delays on completion of the project.

That’s some information relative to just some of the questions I raised above — but much bigger questions remain.

Is a total, simultaneous shutdown of the Orange Line and northern Green Line the right decision? How can we live in a world with no rapid transit service in North Station at a time when the school year is starting, colleges and universities are back in session, workers are returning to the office, and the city kicks into full swing post-Labor Day?

So far, the MBTA hasn't been entirely forthcoming on these questions. But it seems the Government Center Garage demolition and real estate redevelopment is necessitating these shutdowns to some degree. Moreover, the proximity of the Green Line track to the Orange Line track at North Station means shutdowns of both lines may be the only practical option. I'm continuing to push the T for more answers.

Back on Wednesday, when we first started grappling with the pending Orange Line shutdown, I was thinking a lot about how my East Somerville constituents might consider using the Union Square or Lechmere Green Line stops as an alternative way to get into Boston — but now, with the GLX shutting down, those options won’t be available.

This only underscores the enormous imperative for the MBTA to provide generous accommodations for all impacted riders. Appropriately, the MBTA has confirmed to me all replacement bus shuttle service will be free of charge. That's the very least they can do!

By late yesterday, I was advocating for a dedicated bus priority lanes on Route 28 from McGrath Highway at Somerville Ave. up to the dedicated bus lanes we previously established at Charles River Dam Road during the start of the Green Line Extension Project. This would allow for Union Square Station bus replacement service to get to Lechmere in an accelerated fashion. In addition, I am also advocating for bus priority lanes on the Gilmore Bridge, to accommodate an Orange Line replacement shuttle that will run from Sullivan down Rutherford Ave. Gilmore Bridge is likely to be the preferred route to North Station because it allows for a stop at Community College while also steering clear of the Washington Street Bridge now under construction.

I’m continuing to work with my colleagues in government to advocate for robust replacement/alternative bus shuttle service, free of charge, that is also given priority on the roads. As State Representative for the 26th Middlesex District, my focus will continue to be on doing everything I possibly can to advocate for generous accommodations for all of our imperiled and outrageously inconvenienced constituents. Another question that I am raising with the T at our next briefing: Will there be refunds for impacted riders who had purchased monthly passes?

In addition to all the nitty-gritty work of advocating to mitigate the immediate impact of this unprecedented situation on our constituents, I also want to share one bit of hopeful big-picture news.

Last week, the House voted to allocate $400 million to immediately address the severe safety problems at the MBTA. This is in addition to existing and future funding. We also included language in this funding legislation to put an end to the Baker Administration's practice of covering up safety incidents.

In closing, I know these are terribly bleak times for the MBTA — but personally, I am 100% committed to fighting for a world-class transit system that is free to all riders — it's a vision I am determined to see realized. Another key opportunity in this fight will be the vote on the Fair Share Amendment this fall.

Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns on this or any other matter. And if you have specific ideas or concerns for how we can best deal with these impending shutdowns, please let me know.

Yours in service,

Rep. Mike Connolly