Senator Ed Markey and transit advocates are urging state officials to use federal infrastructure funds to stormproof the MBTA in the wake of Hurricane Ida’s downpours last week.
At the Ruggles MBTA station in Roxbury Tuesday, Markey and representatives from Transportation For Massachusetts and Alternatives for Community & Environment said the transit system dodged a bullet when the state was spared a direct hit from Ida, but it won’t be so lucky for long as the climate crisis causes stronger, more frequent storms.
“I hope the next time you come out it’s not because we have to talk about the bodies we had to pull out,” said transportation group executive director Dwaign Tyndal. “This is our harsh reality.”
Even without making a direct hit, the storm dumped up to 9 inches of rain on some parts of Massachusetts, disabling parts of the T and commuter rail system. After the skies cleared, swaths of MBTA tracks remained flooded. Orange Line service between Ruggles and Jackson Square and Needham commuter rail service between Needham Heights and Forest Hills was suspended from early in the morning until around 4 p.m. Amtrak canceled service between Boston and Washington D.C. for most of the day.
Markey pointed to $8 billion the state will likely receive as part of the trillion-dollar federal infrastructure bill winding its way through Congress. About $2.5 billion is planned for public transit and should be used to protect tracks and transit stations from future storms, Markey said.
“We have to make sure the funding is there so the state can build in the preventative, the protection that is needed for a system which is over 100 years old,” he said. “If Ida had hit us directly, if Superstorm Sandy had hit us directly, it would have been catastrophic for Ruggles, it would have been catastrophic for all of the subway system here in Boston.”
Ida isn’t the first storm to ring the alarm bells about the MBTA’s climate vulnerability. A nor’easter in January 2018 caused a shutdown of Blue Line service from Orient Heights to Wonderland and the Aquarium Station to flood. Since then, the MBTA has fortified the Aquarium Station with flood doors and made repairs to prevent water leaks and corrosion along the Blue Line.
A recent study of the MBTA’s climate change resiliency showed that urgent investments are needed to protect the system. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tulane University found that as soon as 2030, a 100-year storm, or rainfall totals that have a 1 percent probability of occurring at that location in a given year, would cause complete flooding of the Blue Line and parts of the Red and Orange lines. By 2070, that powerful a storm would flood nearly the entire network.
To prepare, the MBTA has invested in a slate of projects, including a seawall to protect the Charlestown bus facility, which is expected to be completed soon. By next spring, the MBTA will have completed vulnerability assessments for the entire system that will direct capital investment strategies, a spokeswoman said.
Other Northeast transit systems still reeling from Ida face similar challenges. In New York City, where the storm dumped record-breaking rainfall, hundreds of people had to be evacuated from subway cars and trains as tracks and stations flooded, paralyzing nearly every subway line.
Protecting the MBTA against major storms should be at the top of the agenda for the agency’s new board of directors, said Josh Ostroff, interim director of Transportation For Massachusetts. In early August, Governor Charlie Baker said he expected to make his five appointments to the seven-person board by mid-September. So far only two seats are taken: Mayor Thomas Koch of Quincy, appointed by the MBTA Advisory Board, and MassDOT Secretary Jamey Tesler.