State transportation authorities reversed course Tuesday and said they will delay major repairs to the worn Government Center subway station until the Callahan Tunnel reopens next spring, hoping to avert a looming travel nightmare.
Government Center Station had been scheduled to close for construction for two years starting in September. But State Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey announced that the transit hub will continue running until after the reopening of the Callahan, which will close for construction from the end of December to the end of March.
Getting into Boston is never easy, but the prospect of simultaneous subway, tunnel, and bridge repair projects threatened to turn daily commutes from bad to harrowing.
Last month, after commuters learned of the Callahan’s imminent closing in January, residents raised concerns about the wisdom of embarking on the project during Longfellow Bridge detours, which started this month, and the Government Center renovation.
The convergence of construction work sparked fears that travel through downtown Boston and to Logan Airport would become nearly impossible.
“Government Center is a key switch point for travelers headed to Logan Airport and also for those customers who use the Blue Line on a daily basis,” said Sara Lavoie, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. “We want to make that experience of using the MBTA during the Callahan closure to be as convenient as possible.”
MassDOT officials will begin some work on Government Center Station this fall, as scheduled, but those repairs will be performed without closing the station, Lavoie said.
Officials considered scheduling a shuttle to ferry commuters around Government Center Station, but determined that customers would be deterred by the process of making multiple transfers in a short period of time.
Work on the Callahan Tunnel must adhere to a strict schedule, Lavoie said, because repairs must be finished before work resumes on the Tobin Bridge, which is in the second year of a three-year steel preservation and painting project.
To work on the Callahan and the Tobin simultaneously, she said, “would cause traffic to grind to a halt.”
Government Center, she said, is not subject to the same urgent timeframe for repairs. MassDOT officials decided it would be better to ease customers’ commuting headaches and postpone the worst of the construction work.
The station shutdown will be part of a $90 million project to renovate and rebuild the busy station at City Hall Plaza. Delaying the station’s two-year closing is not expected to affect the project’s cost, said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo. The project, which will be 80 percent paid for by the federal government, is expected to wrap up in spring 2016.
A transfer point for the Green and Blue lines, the station is the 13th-busiest in the MBTA system and the third-oldest, according to MBTA officials. On average, 11,315 people enter Government Center Station on weekdays. During the closing, trains will still run through Government Center, but will not stop at the station.
The overhaul, the first significant modernization to the Government Center Station in 50 years, will result in a dramatic glass station entrance designed to glamorize the landscape of City Hall Plaza.
The construction project will also bring the station into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. When Government Center opens in spring 2016, it will have elevator access for the first time.
Even with the postponement of the station’s closing, Polina Marshakova, 35, said the prospect of commuting woes loomed large on the horizon.
“The closing will be difficult for all people, but especially old people,” Marshakova said as she waited Tuesday at Government Center for the Blue Line to Wonderland. “My grandmother has to take this train from Revere to get to the doctor’s. It’s going to be problematic.”
But, she added, the repairs are a long time coming.
“The station is so outdated in terms of wheelchair accessibility that something has to be done,” she said. “I just wish they could do it without disrupting the whole flow to the station.”