Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll joined state lawmakers and transit officials for a Blue Line commute Thursday morning, promoting the free MBTA subway service from Revere to East Boston to downtown on the second morning of the Sumner Tunnel closure.
Driscoll stepped off the platform at the Orient Heights T station around 8:25 a.m., greeting reporters, Secretary of Transportation Gina Fiandaca, and state Senator Lydia Edwards and Representative Adrian Madaro. Driscoll had boarded at Wonderland, four stops up the line, a few minutes earlier, following a roughly 20 minute drive from her Salem home.
Standing by the stuck-open fare gates, as T ambassadors reminded riders that their trip was free, Driscoll called her commute a “really smooth process” so far. At Orient Heights, inbound trains came about every five to seven minutes, with headways occasionally dipping below four minutes.
“We really want people to know the best way to get into Boston during the Sumner Tunnel closure — not only good for their wallet, but good for the planet — is to take public transportation,” Driscoll, the former Salem mayor, told reporters. “This week in particular, it’s a good week to ramp up because we know a lot of folks are away. And we’re working out some of the kinks and bumps as we head into what we think will be a busier commuter week next week.”
She reiterated that the parts of the T are operating for free, like the Blue Line in both directions and the East Boston ferry, or at reduced cost, including the commuter rail’s Newburyport/Rockport line.
Still, an hour before the lieutenant governor arrived at Orient Heights, southbound traffic on Interstate 90, snaking toward the Ted Williams Tunnel, had slowed to a crawling mass, dozens and dozens of cars long.
Driscoll said she usually aims to take public transit to work “at least once a week,” depending on where she needs to go, and “definitely” planned to continue using it throughout the closure. Typically Driscoll takes the commuter rail from Salem — with longer headways but more open seats, she noted on her Blue Line ride — but she said “there’s no better way to get into Boston than coming on a boat,” highlighting increased ferry service this summer.
Fiandaca, the transportation secretary, said the state is monitoring ridership on public transit but did not yet have data for Wednesday, the first day of the nearly two-month closure.
“We can tell anecdotally that it’s been strong,” Fiandaca said. “It’s vacation time, but I think a lot of people are taking advantage of the fares.”
She said backups and diversions were reported Wednesday around Logan International Airport and near the Tobin Bridge in Chelsea, and she added that diversion plans are fluid and will likely change throughout the closure. She said MassDOT expects many drivers to opt for the bridge over the Ted Williams Tunnel farther south, which could create additional congestion.
During their second day of round-the-clock work, crews prepped the tunnel’s new, pre-cast concrete arch; continued installing electrical conduits; and removed 960 of the current drop-ceiling’s tiles, about a quarter of the total, according to an update issued around 5 p.m. by MassDOT.
Fiandaca said it was too early to say whether the Sumner project would conclude early, but said she hoped crews would complete the project on schedule.
If the Sumner reopens before Aug. 31, it would not be the first time MassDOT contractors finished a project earlier than anticipated. The Callahan Tunnel, which closed in 2014, was completed two days ahead of schedule, the Globe reported at the time.
In other transit news, Wednesday evening state officials reversed a decision made last week to suspend Union Square service on the Green Line Extension during the Sumner closure, while MassDOT crews repair Somerville’s Squires Bridge. Instead, that closure will occur in September, the administration of Governor Maura Healey announced.
Fiandaca told reporters that MassDOT “teams were able to reexamine the structure of the bridge over the weekend and to come up with an alternative plan that would be more advantageous,” but did not share additional details.
As the train moved from the Maverick to the Aquarium station, Driscoll said “we really wanted to understand other alternatives.”
“It’s tough to have the Sumner Tunnel closed and the Green Line closed,” she said.
Overhead, an announcement on the train’s intercom reminded passengers of the free service, and officials laughed about hearing that same voice a handful of times on their relatively short trip.
Driscoll’s train pulled up to the Government Center platform a little before 9 a.m. The ride lasted just shy of 15 minutes.