Years of water damage to a single support column for the Government Center Garage will close parts of two subway lines in downtown Boston indefinitely, MBTA officials said Friday, in the latest disruption to the troubled transit system.
The shutdown is nearly identical to closures implemented after a portion of the garage collapsed in March, killing a construction worker and sending 110 tons of debris onto the ground just above tunnels for the Green and Orange lines.
The upheaval could hardly have come at a worse time for MBTA riders, already facing reduced weekday service on the Orange, Blue, and Red lines since Monday because of a dispatcher shortage identified by federal officials.
The MBTA abruptly suspended service on portions of the two lines on Thursday night after the developer overseeing the garage demolition disclosed problems with the garage’s support system. The deteriorating column is one of seven that holds up the garage and passes through the MBTA’s subterranean infrastructure near Haymarket Station.
Green Line trains are suspended between Government Center and Lechmere stations, while Orange Line service is halted between Back Bay and North stations. Shuttle buses are available along the closed section of Green Line track. The T encouraged Orange Line riders to use the Green Line between Copley and Government Center stations for downtown service.
Transit officials said the closures could continue for “several days” and encouraged commuters to consider working from home.
On Friday evening, the T said it was helping HYM Investment Group, the lead developer on the garage project, to access the column to begin adding reinforcement, and that engineers and safety specialists were monitoring the site and will make a safety assessment before subway service resumes.
“Repair work is underway and we will continue to support their contractors by delivering workers and materials to the site,” the MBTA said on Twitter.
Engineering and safety experts are also on scene monitoring the site and will be ready to assess their work to ensure the safety of all infrastructure before allowing service to resume. We will continue to share updates as more information becomes available.— MBTA (@MBTA) June 24, 2022
In announcing the closures, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak blamed HYM for the structural damage.
“The MBTA will seek to hold HYM Construction accountable for all costs associated with this event,” Poftak said in a statement Thursday. On Friday, a T spokeswoman said he was not available for comment but reiterated that the company is responsible for the columns, which pass through the subway tunnels but don’t support them “in any way.”
“They are the responsible party for maintaining and repairing all columns and foundation footings that pass through MBTA tunnels to support the private Government Center Garage,” said Lisa Battiston, the spokeswoman. She also provided a copy of an easement approved in 1966 by the MBTA’s board of directors that the MBTA said established outside control of the columns.
HYM, which is tearing down the garage to make way for a multibillion-dollar mixed-use real estate development called Bulfinch Crossing, said the deteriorated column is “unrelated” to the garage demolition work.
On Friday night, HYM and the general contractor on the project, John Moriarty & Associates, issued a forceful statement saying they “are not in the business of pointing fingers.”
“We are looking to solve a problem that affects the people who live, work and commute in this City,” the companies said in a statement. “Yesterday, as previously stated, HYM’s team of engineers under the supervision of the MBTA, confirmed a problematic subsurface column within the MBTA tunnel. Upon detection, our teams immediately notified additional members of MBTA leadership of the issues the condition of this column posed. These tunnels are inaccessible without the permission of the MBTA.”
HYM acquired the garage more than a decade ago with plans to re-envision the concrete facility as a complex of skyscrapers connecting multiple city neighborhoods.
The situation was further complicated Friday when a fire erupted on the 20th floor of a high-rise being built at the development, prompting road closures while firefighters contained the blaze. The $1.3 billion One Congress office tower is the future home to headquarters for State Street Corp., InterSystems, and the law firm K&L Gates.
The ties linking the massive construction project and the subway system have been on full display since March 26, when a portion of the Government Center Garage collapsed, killing Peter Monsini, 51, a construction worker from Easton who was doing demolition work.
In the aftermath of the collapse, the MBTA suspended subway service on parts of the Orange and Green lines, launched cleanup efforts, and conducted safety inspections of tunnels that serve both lines. Orange Line service was restored March 29, but reopening the Green Line took longer because its tunnel is directly below the debris pile. Green Line service was restored on April 10.
Construction at the garage has been suspended since the collapse. The deteriorating column was detected Thursday while engineers hired by HYM and others surveyed the MBTA tunnels underneath the garage as part of efforts to restart the work.
According to the MBTA, engineers for HYM inspected the columns in July 2021 “as part of their initial project and plans” and had an opportunity to inspect them in March after the garage partially collapsed.
During a MBTA board of directors meeting in April, Poftak said the March inspections didn’t uncover “any significant damage, notable damage” to the tunnels. On Friday, Battiston said the columns were not a part of those inspections because they don’t support the subway tunnels and didn’t play a role in the collapse.
The discovery of the deteriorating column highlights the complexities involved in large-scale real estate development and demolition work, specialists said.
”Should somebody have done an inspection before the demolition began, let alone after the accident happened? You know, taking things apart is a lot more difficult than putting them together to begin with,” said Jim Lambrechts, a civil engineering professor at Wentworth Institute of Technology. “It may be out of extreme caution that they’re shutting it down until somebody can make an assessment of what the capacity of that column still is, given the deterioration. This may be the first time anybody ever looked at the column since the time it was built.”
On a shuttle bus from Government Center to North Station, commuters expressed frustration about the shutdown.
“It’s been a little bit annoying,” said Noah Albino, 27, who lives in Jamaica Plain and was heading to Lechmere Station. “This isn’t going to take me to Lechmere Station, it’s just gonna get me to North Station, so I’ll probably have to walk the rest.”
Boston University students Sydney Pecoraro and Kayla Zuccarelli were headed to North Station to catch a commuter rail train to Salem for a class field trip. Already dealing with “frustrating” shuttle buses on the B Line due to Green Line track work, the students faced further delays trying to make their way across the city.
“The T is convenient, and the shuttle buses … try to be on time, but it’s not as consistent,” said Pecoraro, 19.
The service disruptions mark the latest setback for the MBTA, whose aging subway system has come under federal scrutiny over safety concerns.
In April, a passenger was dragged to his death by a Red Line train. This week, new Orange and Red line trains were taken out of service after a battery failed on a new Orange Line train.
Last week, the Federal Transit Administration issued a scathing review of MBTA safety issues and ordered the agency to implement a range of reforms in areas such as staffing and track maintenance.
John Ellement of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Matt Yan and Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report.