fb-pixelMBTA to close Green Line north of Government Center for 4 weeks - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

MBTA to close Green Line north of Government Center for 4 weeks

The new Union Square Green Line station.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Two days after announcing a four-week shutdown on the Orange Line, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said Friday it is closing a portion of the Green Line that includes the newly opened extension to Union Square for four weeks and delaying the opening of the Medford branch line until late November, the latest setbacks for the troubled transit system.

MBTA officials said the shutdown between the Green Line’s Government Center and Union Square stations is necessary to complete work on the Medford branch and continue work at the Government Center garage, which is being demolished by the developer of the $1.3 billion One Congress office tower. The shutdown begins Aug. 22.

Advertisement



The announcement prompted state Representative William M. Straus, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee, to call on the federal government to consider intervening more directly in the system’s daily safety operations. The Federal Transit Administration has been inspecting the subway system since mid-April, saying it was “extremely concerned” with ongoing safety issues, but Straus said the option should be available for the agency to assume a broader oversight role, as it did in 2015 for the Metrorail system in Washington, D.C.

“There are fundamental internal failures that just require the highest level of attention,” said Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat. He said the agency is struggling to operate safely while pursuing capital improvements.

An FTA spokeswoman said the agency wouldn’t comment.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the agency is already working closely with the FTA on multiple improvements.

“Accelerating infrastructure improvements, ramping up safety training and increasing staffing levels, the MBTA has fully embraced the Safety Management Inspection, and the T will address any and all safety issues the FTA identifies,” Pesaturo said.

The Green Line extension to Union Square has been open only since late March, 32 years after the state promised to extend the line into Somerville. With the Orange Line closing for large-scale repairs on Aug. 19, exasperated riders must negotiate another significant closure as students return to school and more workers return to the office.

Advertisement



Speaking with reporters during a video call, MBTA general manager Steve Poftak said he knows customers are frustrated and asked for patience.

“I know it is frustrating, but this is necessary work,” he said. “And we want to be in a position to start reopening service. ... I’m looking forward to reopening the Orange Line. We’re looking forward to reopening the Union Square branch and then in November, opening the Medford branch as well.”

Some T riders are already convinced the transit system will not be able to complete the work in four weeks.

“I don’t think it’s very realistic,” said Somerville resident Kamie Ngam, who was riding the Green Line to Union Square. “I have not seen any construction go on schedule. [It’s] more likely to be a few months.”

A number of factors influenced the decision to close a portion of the Green Line during the Orange Line shutdown, Poftak said. The MBTA had already planned to shutter the section at some point to make the final push to open the Medford line, and was also facing the need to divert service around Haymarket Station during scheduled demolition work at the Government Center Garage, he said.

Service was disrupted in March after a deadly construction collapse at the garage sent 110 tons of debris onto the ground above the tunnels for the Orange and Green lines. A portion of the Orange Line was closed for three days and a part of the Green Line was closed for more than two weeks.

Advertisement



Those partial closures were repeated in June when the developer discovered a support column for the garage had sustained water damage and required immediate repairs.

“We thought rather than having multiple diversions, multiple closures, and multiple service modes on this part of the Green Line, we would have it be consistent and we would give our forces the unencumbered access to the entire workspace,” Poftak said.

Green and Orange Line tracks run parallel between Haymarket and North stations. On weekdays, about 2,500 riders board trolleys in Union Square and Lechmere, the MBTA said. The average number of weekday trips on the Orange Line as of October was 104,000, but were more than double that before the pandemic.

Aaron Wetjen-Barry, who manages a record store in Union Square, said he usually uses the Green or Orange lines to get to work from his home in Roslindale.

The simultaneous closures, he said, are “insane, but not surprising with how things are going in the city right now.”

Customers will have access to free shuttle buses during the closure. The buses will stop at Lechmere Station and the Lechmere Station bus loop, but not at Science Park Station, which the MBTA said is within walking distance to North Station. Regular service will resume Sept. 19, the MBTA said.

Advertisement



The MBTA plans to use at least 160 shuttle buses for the Orange Line closure and another 22 buses for the partial Green Line closure.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said Friday that the city is preparing for the shutdowns and hoping the disruptions lead to long-term improvements.

“We’re going to do everything that we can to make this as painless of a situation as possible. But it’s not going to be pretty for a couple of weeks, as we’re starting to head towards people being back for the fall and starting school,” Wu told reporters at an unrelated event.

Wu said she supported the decision to shut the Orange Line, which runs from Malden to Jamaica Plain, to hasten large-scale and long-deferred repairs.

“I, as an Orange Line rider myself, would rather see one stop where we just get it done, fix the thing, and then have better service as opposed to, two steps forward, three steps back,” she said. “So this will condense years of work into one sitting.”

The opening of the Green Line’s Medford branch has been repeatedly delayed. It was slated to open in December, then May, then this summer. Test trains began operating on the new branch on May 14, the MBTA said. The MBTA didn’t specify the date in late November that it expects the service to be available.

The Medford branch links Lechmere Station to five new stops: College Avenue, Ball Square, Magoun Square, Gilman Square, and East Somerville.

Advertisement



In a statement, Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn called the closure of the Orange Line, which runs through the city, and further delay to the Green Line extension “extremely frustrating news” that adds “another layer of stress and uncertainty on our residents.”

“Now as we’re entering September, with more cars on the road and more people commuting into work, and soon to school, we’re facing substantial congestion on our streets and further reliance on gas-powered automobiles,” the mayor added.

Laurel Ruma, a Medford resident and citizen representative for the Green Line extension project said, “It’s completely understood that the MBTA has greater problems with safety, reliability, and earning back the public’s trust.”

“Those issues have to be addressed before any new construction can open,” she said.

On the Green Line, the MBTA said it plans to complete the final phase of construction on the Medford branch and the East Cambridge viaduct, a bridge that spans the Charles River by the Museum of Science.

Some of that work has been delayed, Poftak said, because the MBTA had to redirect its workforce to address immediate concerns from the FTA.

During the partial Green Line closure, the MBTA expects to eliminate a speed restriction on the viaduct and integrate track switches, power lines, signal equipment, and digital equipment connecting the Union Square and Medford branches to the MBTA’s control center.

Globe correspondent Daniel Kool and Emma Platoff and Taylor Dolven of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her @lauracrimaldi.