Two branches of the Green Line will each be shut down for a month apiece this summer, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials announced on Thursday, part of an accelerated repair program that will see parts of all four subway lines as well as the Silver Line taken out of use at some point in 2020.
The Green Line’s C branch from Kenmore to Cleveland Circle will be closed in July, and the E branch from Prudential to Heath Street will be offline in August. The T promised to provide shuttles to replace the trolleys.
The plan is an outgrowth of the T’s guiding philosophy in recent months, which has already resulted in weekend and nighttime shutdowns on parts of the Red, Orange, and Green lines, as well as a looming reduction in parking spots at the Braintree garage: It’s better to close things off and give workers the time and space to fix the T relatively quickly, rather than let repairs stretch on for years.
“We listened to our customers, and last year we heard them loud and clear,” MBTA general manager Steve Poftak said at a news conference. “Fixing the MBTA at our previous pace was not good enough. We needed to build a better T, and we needed to do it faster.”
But the upcoming Green Line closures are still unprecedented in recent history, because they will be around-the-clock and include weekday rush hours. Prior initiatives have instead focused work on weekends or getting an early start at night before the T’s usual closing time.
The shutdowns will disrupt travel for thousands of riders on the above-ground branches — about 7,600 a day on the C branch and 14,000 on the E branch.
The disruptions will extend elsewhere, too: The Blue Line, for example, will be offline between Airport and Bowdoin stations for 19 weekends from May through the fall to repair and replace tracks and tunnel infrastructure. That will save the T about two years of work, but cost East Boston residents their easiest way to access downtown.
And the Silver Line bus system will run above ground through the Seaport District on weekends spread between August and December to complete work meant to prevent leaking in the tunnel.
Officials acknowledged the disruptions but said they will significantly speed up needed work — like the replacement of nearly 11 miles of Green Line tracks. That project will also upgrade intersections by smoothing pavement and adding new track on the C and E branches, which, unlike most of the T’s rail system, share a right-of-way with street traffic.
Once the work is complete, those Green Line trips will be as much as four minutes faster, according to the T.
The projects are already funded under the T’s five-year, $8 billion capital spending plan, but were previously scheduled to take about two years longer. The MBTA says it already has the staff needed to carry out the work after adding more than 100 engineering, maintenance, and project planning workers over the last year.
“While these shuttles are a temporary inconvenience, the work the T is set to accomplish during these accelerated time frames ... will improve the long-term safety and reliability of the system for years,” Governor Charlie Baker said.
The announcement was met with some criticism and a few four-letter words on social media. “You have no credibility. Build some, then you can ask for patience & understanding,” one Twitter user wrote to the T.
But on a C branch trolley ride Thursday, riders were a little more accepting. Julia Marshall said summer is the right time to do it, when there are fewer students and more workers are on vacation. That work will be worthwhile, she said, if it reduces the number of unexpected delays that commonly occur.
Nonetheless, Marshall said, the shutdown will disrupt many people’s commutes.
“In the long run it will be worth it, but there are a lot of people who rely on” the Green Line, she said. “I guess there’s no good way to do it.”
Another rider, Agney Mulay of Brookline, noted that many C branch riders can get to the Green Line’s B or D branches, though it will require a longer walk.
“I can go to the D branch, so it’s not the worst thing," he said. “It’s slightly more inconvenient.”
A full list of planned closures and projects is available at mbta.com/projects/building-better-t-2020. Poftak said there would likely be other disruptions in future years as more projects surface.
The Green Line work will coincide with other projects on the other end of the line, which will shut down service between Lechmere and North Station for a year starting this spring. That shutdown was previously announced.
The Lechmere work is associated with the Green Line extension through Somerville, which requires moving the station to the other side of Route 28. Workers will also strengthen the viaduct that carries the Green Line from Boston to Cambridge so that it will be able to accommodate new models of much longer cars.
Jarred Johnson, director of the advocacy group Transit Matters, said that he supports the T moving quickly on repairs even if it means lengthy service shutdowns, but that it makes it important for the agency to run top-of-the-line shuttle bus service in the meantime. That will require better communication than he saw during weekend closures in 2019, including clear signage and consistent locations and routes for shuttle buses, Johnson said.
“We’re totally supportive of the concept, but the execution really needs to be flawless. If you are inconveniencing riders to this degree, then the shuttle service you provide needs to excel,” he said.
Johnson added that the T should be working with cities and towns to establish bus lanes wherever shuttle services must replace transit, giving transit riders priority over other cars.
The T has said it is exploring ways, such as dedicated bus lanes, to speed up the replacement shuttle service between Lechmere and North Station this year. On Thursday, Poftak said the agency is “actively discussing” ways to put bus lanes in place for the shuttles replacing service on the C and E branches, though that would require cooperation with Boston and Brookline officials.