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Boston’s Amazon bid relies in part on nonexistent transit options

CRAIG F. WALKER/GLOBE STAFF

Commuters wait for a train on the MBTA Red Line at Park Street Station.

By Globe Staff 

The city’s pitch to bring Amazon’s second headquarters to Suffolk Downs paints a picture of an idyllic commute that few in Boston likely experience, relying in part on transit options that don’t exist.

Could you get from Suffolk Downs, as City Hall asserts, to downtown Boston in 10 minutes? The Seaport District in 12? And how about this one: a trip to Harvard in 20 minutes?

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Maybe, if you spend $750 million on a subway connection that isn’t in the works: linking the Blue Line with the Red Line at the Charles/MGH MBTA station.

That is one of the big transportation improvements that Boston included in its Amazon submission as it understandably tried to put the best gloss on our somewhat infamous roads and rails.

“Boston has an extensive web of rail transit for regional and local access and a robust international airport. From global to regional connections, getting to and around Boston is easier than ever,” the city said in its Amazon submission.

In its checklist for a new headquarters, Amazon has said the winning location should have easy access to highways, be near an international airport, and be directly served by public transit. Suffolk Downs would appear to check most of those boxes. But many of the boasts Boston officials made about getting around Massachusetts appear to be doable only in the best of driving conditions: beaches of Cape Cod? 1½ hours.

Others depend on items that have cropped up on various wish lists over the years, but have not had any formal backing.

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Boston’s bid mentions a possible new commuter rail station in Revere, increased ferry service on Boston Harbor, and improvements to Route 1A near Suffolk Downs, one of the most congested roadways in the region.

No proposal is as ambitious as the one to extend the Blue Line about 1,500 feet underground, connecting the only two subway lines that do not cross each other. Boston identified the Red-Blue connection as a “clear goal” of the state, even though the project was officially shelved in late 2015 after Massachusetts spent years trying to get out of building it.

The advantages would be obvious for any Suffolk Downs denizen, but especially Amazon. The site is served by two Blue Line stops, while the Red Line is home to elite universities — not to mention existing Amazon offices in Kendall Square.

“If you wanted to go from Harvard to East Boston” currently, “you would spend 23 minutes on platforms alone waiting to connect,” said Rafael Mares, a vice president and transit advocate at the Conservation Law Foundation.

Years ago, the state was required to build the Red-Blue connector to mitigate the environmental impacts of the Big Dig highway project, similar to the still-pending Green Line extension to Somerville. But first, under the Romney administration, that commitment shifted to simply designing it. And then, under former governor Deval Patrick, the state requested permission from the US Environmental Protection Agency to formally drop the Red-Blue connector from its Big Dig mitigation plans. The EPA authorized that dismissal in late 2015.

“It’s been off people’s radar screens for quite a while,” said Jeffrey Mullan, a former state transportation secretary under Patrick.

The Red-Blue line connector does not even warrant a mention in any of the MBTA’s current building plans. T spokesman Joe Pesaturo would only say that officials “work closely with partners in stakeholder communities around the Commonwealth on investment and transportation opportunities.”

Under Governor Charlie Baker, the T has focused mostly on improving its existing, unreliable, and crowded infrastructure. But Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the T’s board of directors, said the agency could have an appetite for the project.

“We’re cognizant that the first thing we want to do is chip away at the state of good repair on the system,” Aiello said. “But we’re equally cognizant of the fact that communities do not stand still and transportation infrastructure does not stand still.”

Tom O’Brien of HYM Investment Group, which owns Suffolk Downs, said the sheer scope of an Amazon headquarters might wake the project from hibernation.

“An Amazon transaction would be just the engine needed to help make needed transportation projects like that a reality,” O’Brien said.

The bid includes other transportation ideas that are not presently in the works, noting that state incentives could be used for infrastructure-related projects.

One example: a $25 million commuter rail station in Revere, near the Wonderland Blue Line stop, providing easier access to the Blue Line for commuters from the North Shore. Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo has promoted the idea in recent months, though the MBTA has not seemingly given it much thought.

It also suggests the Suffolk Downs site could eventually be served by the Silver Line bus system. Currently the Silver Line ends at Logan Airport, but next year it is scheduled to extend in a slightly different direction — toward Chelsea, not further into East Boston.

Boston also envisions $40 million of roadwork on Route 1A, a congested stretch that connects Logan with downtown Boston and the North Shore.


Tim Logan of the Globe staff contributed to this report Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.