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MBTA approves plan to consolidate stops on Green Line’s B branch

The Green Line's B branch runs along Commonwealth Avenue.
The Green Line's B branch runs along Commonwealth Avenue.Richman, Evan Globe Staff

The Green Line’s B branch may finally move a little faster along the western edges of Boston University’s campus, as the MBTA finalized plans Monday to consolidate four stops located less than a half-mile from each other.

The MBTA’s board of directors awarded an $18 million contract for the long-discussed project to build two new stations and eliminate four. The Boston University West and St. Paul Street stops, separated by about 700 feet, will be consolidated into one, as will the Pleasant and Babcock Street stops, also only about 700 feet apart.

The current set-up has long provided easy access to riders along Commonwealth Avenue, but slowed trips considerably as trolleys are forced to stop and start again in short succession. That has compounded problems on the Green Line, which faces more delays than the rest of the subway system in part because it shares a right-of-way with auto traffic and must stop at street intersections.

Anna Leslie, director of the Allston Brighton Health Collaborative, which has pushed for better transportation in those neighborhoods, said she hears complaints about the herky-jerky B branch “all the time.”

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“It’s part of the fabric of the neighborhood. Just as there is a local bar, there is the disastrous B line. It is baked into the narrative of the neighborhood," she said. The station consolidation should help, she said.

MBTA officials have said for years that eliminating some stops could lead to better overall service.

“Consolidating these four stations into two provides multiple benefits to our B branch customers, including improved station spacing for more consistent time between trains, faster trips down Comm. Ave. to improve reliability,” MBTA general manager Steve Poftak said in a statement, adding that the new stations will also be better for riders with disabilities.

For what is effectively a closure of two stations, the project approved Monday is more complicated than it might seem at first blush — and more costly.

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Because it is building new stops, the MBTA must ensure full accessibility for people with disabilities, allowing riders in wheelchairs to board trolleys from the platform.

The new stations, which will be located between the current pairs, will also be nicer than the typical dingy conditions of above-ground trolley stops, usually little more than a stretch of pavement alongside the tracks.

The new locations will have longer platforms to serve a larger number of riders at each stop and to handle the T’s expected future Green Line fleet, which will feature much longer cars. The new stops will also have canopies to protect waiting riders from the weather along most of the platform.

The MBTA said work on the project will begin by the fall and be finished about a year later. It will require some weekend diversions and weeknight early closures on the B branch. The construction contract was issued to Norfolk-based MAS Building and Bridge Inc.

The project approval came in the first MBTA and Massachusetts Department of Transportation board meeting during the coronavirus pandemic. Most board members called or video-conferenced into the meeting, which also included approval of improvement projects on Melnea Cass Boulevard in Boston and the Downtown Crossing MBTA station.

Transportation officials said they plan to continue construction on the roads and transit system for now but are taking it project by project and pausing some work. Earlier Monday, Governor Charlie Baker categorized construction work as “essential,” allowing it to continue despite a widespread business shutdown to slow the virus’s spread.

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Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.