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Orange Line shutdown will cause ‘severe’ traffic congestion throughout the region, officials warn

A train pulled into Forest Hills Station. With the Orange Line about to shut down for extensive repairs, the MBTA and City of Boston officials are running test buses to trouble-shoot issues before they replace the train service.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker and other officials warned Monday that “traffic congestion will be severe” on city streets and state highways during the Orange Line shutdown, as shuttle buses are deployed across Greater Boston to carry tens of thousands of daily MBTA passengers.

“We expect to see more traffic congestion on various highways, intersections, and routes...for drivers, bikers, and pedestrians as MassDOT and especially the city of Boston make roadway changes to accommodate these buses,” Baker said at a press conference about the impending shutdown.

The shutdown begins Friday evening, and continues until the morning of Sept. 19.

Whether you drive, bike, or walk, MassDOT Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver said bluntly, “your commute will likely be longer.”


“To be clear, the shutdown will have substantial regional travel impacts,” Gulliver said. “It is evident that significant congestion will be felt throughout the region.”

MassDOT released a map of potential traffic congestion ahead of the Orange Line closure.MassDOT

In some areas, he added, roadway capacity along the direct routes will be cut in half in order to prioritize shuttle service.

Bicyclists and pedestrians should be aware that buses providing shuttle services are larger than MBTA buses, have different blind spots for drivers, and different turning radiuses that must be taken into account.

Boston’s chief of streets, Jascha Franklin-Hodge, urged people to plan now for an alternative way to work, including bicycling along the Southwest Corridor.

“Over the coming days, we will undertake an unprecedented effort to reconfigure streets in ways big and small to ensure that the shuttle buses can operate safely and efficiently on Boston streets,” he said. “We know that this shutdown will be disruptive and painful for riders.”

The T on Friday released its list of alternatives available to Orange Line riders when the shutdown begins.

The MBTA plan calls for:

  • Free shuttle bus service on a north route from Oak Grove to Government Center stations and a south route from Forest Hills to Copley stations. Riders can connect to the Green Line at Government Center and Copley to switch between the routes.
  • Tufts Medical Center, Chinatown, Downtown Crossing, and State stations will not have shuttle bus service. The T is directing riders who use those stations to instead travel on Silver Line bus routes, the Blue Line, or the Green Line.
  • Vans will be provided for throughout the route to take riders with accessibility needs to the station closest to their destination. The RIDE paratransit trips that begin and end within ¾ of a mile of the Orange Line will be free during the 30-day shutdown.
  • The T urges passengers to shift their daily journeys to the Commuter Rail network. The trip will essentially be free for those who show a Charlie Card or CharlieTicket to conductors at Zone 1A, 1, and 2 stations. Commuter Rail trains will stop at Forest Hills, Ruggles, Back Bay, North Station, Malden Center, and Oak Grove stations.
  • The Green Line between Government Center and Union Square stations will also stop running trains beginning Aug. 22 until the morning of Sept. 19. The T will provide shuttle bus service at all Green Line stations along this stretch of the line.

The Green Line E Branch service is suspended between Copley and Heath Street stations until Aug. 21, and the T is directing riders to use the 39 bus instead.


  • Bluebikes will offer free 30-day passes during the Orange Line shutdown. Those passes will be available on the bike share system’s website or app.

The shutdown plan came with little advance warning to officials in Boston, Somerville, Medford, and Malden, the primary communities on the Orange Line. Municipal officials have been working with the T on impact planning.

A complete subway line shutdown for 30 days has never been done before, and the T plans to conduct long-deferred track repairs and replacements that have been ordered by the Federal Transit Administration, which is conducting a safety inspection of the MBTA.

That inspection started after a series of safety failures, including the April dragging death of a Red Line passenger at Broadway Station in Boston. In June, the FTA issued four interim directives to the T, ordering the agency to complete safety certifications for all of its staff, better prevent runaway train incidents, hire more dispatchers, and address long-neglected track repairs.

The FTA’s full safety report is expected later this month.

The T closures will come just as students are starting classes, many workers are considering a post-summer return to downtown offices, and voters head to the polls in the state’s primary elections.

At least eight Boston Public Schools high schools are located near the Orange Line, serving nearly 6,000 students, a Globe analysis found. Community colleges and universities also dot the route, including Northeastern University, Roxbury Community College, and Bunker Hill Community College.

The long-term benefit could be the elimination of years-long speed restrictions that have plagued the Orange Line and kept service slow.


The T said it will replace 3,500 feet of 38-year-old track, as well as repair track, ties, and concrete along the route, and upgrade signals at Oak Grove and Malden stations.

All alternative travel options can be found on the MBTA’s website:

John R. Ellement can be reached at Follow him @JREbosglobe. Taylor Dolven can be reached at Follow her @taydolven.