MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, on Tuesday, for the first time, shared an image of the water-damaged support column inside subway tunnels near Haymarket station that prompted a chaotic shutdown of Orange and Green Line service there for several days last month.
Poftak displayed the photograph of the column, covered in thick rusty-brown and white discoloration and bolstered by reinforcing steel, during a meeting of the agency’s board of directors. It was discovered last month as part of inspections into the structural integrity of the Government Center Garage, which partially collapsed in late March, killing a construction worker and also shuttering Orange and Green Line service there.
Most of the hulking concrete Government Center Garage is coming down to make way for Bulfinch Crossing, The HYM Investment Group’s multibillion-dollar mixed-use project, which includes office and residential towers and a future lab building. HYM has resumed demolishing the garage.
On Tuesday, Poftak and the MBTA again asserted that each of the seven support columns underneath Haymarket station “are the responsibility of HYM” — and the transit agency intends to hold the developer financially responsible. HYM has already picked up the cost of shuttle buses for riders during the shutdown and bolstering the deteriorated column with two newly constructed support beams, Poftak said.
“The MBTA is in the process of determining the financial impact this will have and will work with HYM to recoup costs,” a slide in Poftak’s presentation to the MBTA board reads.
A spokesperson for HYM declined to comment.
Last month’s station closure occurred just three months after the partial collapse at the Government Center Garage, which sent 110 tons of debris onto the ground, halted Orange and Green Line service, and killed demolition worker Peter Monsini. The MBTA is working with HYM to plan when it will need to shut down service again during certain kinds of demolition, Poftak said.
“There’s certain parts of the building that are not over our reservation and they’ll be able to do some of that work without a closure,” he said. “The work that is directly over the tunnels and some related work is going to require a closure.
“I think these incidents have brought forward that we really need to prioritize safety in everything we do,” he added.
Coordinating closures will be complicated by a staffing shortage, Poftak said. A shortage of dispatchers in the operations control center, pointed out by the Federal Transit Administration last month, prompted the T to reduce service on three of its subway lines for the remainder of the summer. The FTA is conducting a nearly unprecedented safety management inspection of the T after a series of safety incidents.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, the first in-person meeting held since the pandemic began, Aisheea Isidor, assistant general manager for the T’s Operations Control Center and Operations Training, said the agency is trying to “get up to 32 [dispatchers].” Only six new dispatchers have started or will soon start the 10-week training course they need to complete before they can take the job, Isidor said, and the T can only train six people at a time.
MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said the T currently has 17 heavy rail dispatchers. “The MBTA will revisit the reduced heavy rail schedule after it has adequate staffing to safely operate more service,” he said via email.
Also, at Tuesday’s meeting, the board gave the T permission to move forward with buying a two-acre parcel next to its Southampton bus facility near the South End for $15.4 million to be able to accommodate more buses. The T also got the green light on an $86 million contract for Barletta Heavy Division to increase storage for new Red Line vehicles and update infrastructure at the Codman Yard in Dorchester.
The board of directors postponed until next month its vote on a new $102 million contract with a Tennessee company in charge of hiring and overseeing Transit Ambassadors who provide customer service in stations. Pesaturo said the T has extended its existing contract with the company, MyDatt Services, by a month, at a cost of about $1.1 million.