Government Center shines as it opens again
For a moment, at least, the MBTA’s checkered on-time performance record and its scuttled late-night service, its billions in needed infrastructure repairs and its beleaguered Green Line extension project all faded into the past.
Amid a throng of onlookers and a pack of reporters inside the rebuilt Government Center Station Monday, officials beamed. Here was good news: Not just the reopening of a busy subway station that had been shuttered for two years, but the completion of a major infrastructure project in the heart of the city, a gleaming new installation of contemporary architecture above and beneath some of Boston’s busiest streets, on time and on budget.
Governor Charlie Baker held up a black walkie-talkie and pressed a button with his thumb. “Governor Baker to central control,” he said, with Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh beside him.
A moment later, a woman’s voice crackled back: “Central control is answering, Governor Baker.”
“Central control,” Baker repeated, “at this time, Government Center is now reopened.” He hoisted the walkie-talkie so all could hear the dispatcher’s reply, giving the all-clear for Green Line operators to resume service at Government Center.
“Ten-four!” Baker said, beaming. “That was really cool.”
A trolley pulled up — the first here since the early morning hours of March 22, 2014 — and he climbed aboard, other officials and reporters behind him. The good humor continued on Green Line car 3841, where Walsh played transit cop, flashing his own T pass and calling for everyone else to show theirs.
“Can I see some CharlieCards? Let’s go,” the mayor said, as the trolley rolled toward Park Street.
The $113 million station now in the rear-view mirror put everyone aboard in a good mood, an eye-catching replacement to what had long been an eyesore. The old Government Center Station was a lump of brick that rose like a boil amid the wider expanse of brick known as City Hall Plaza, with a dim concrete opening that gave way inside to peeling paint, chipped floors, and begrimed tiles.
It also had no elevators and a frequently broken escalator, making the station beside Boston’s City Hall impassable for people with wheelchairs and uninviting to parents with strollers and to luggage-wielding travelers — no small thing for the station that connects the Green Line with the Logan Airport-bound Blue Line.
The new station, designed by HDR and built by Barletta Heavy Division, pairs a lobby of Atlantic Black granite with a soaring rectangle of glass — 40 feet high, 25 feet wide, and 120 feet long, comprising 358 glass panels weighing 700 pounds each.
That glassy side rises above the stairwells, escalators, and elevator shafts, allowing light to stream down to the subway platforms and passersby to see through the station, glimpsing the brutalist monument of City Hall, the long arc of Center Plaza, and the graceful curve of the 19th-century block known as the Sears’ Crescent.
“Beautiful on the outside and beautiful on the inside,” was how Walsh put it, during a half-hour ceremony that began with a busker performance — pop and hip-hop covers on electric violin — and ended with a ribbon cutting, so many stainless-steel scissors snipping at once.
The officials were preceded by a contingent of accessibility advocates, whose successful entrance by wheelchair — the first in nearly 118 years of subway service at this station — an unseen emcee declared to be a “very historical moment.”
Michael Muehe, executive director of the Cambridge Commission for Persons with Disabilities, called the station “a model of universal design and human-centered design.”
The first station here, originally named for Scollay Square, opened in September 1898, when Boston’s first subway tunnel was a year old, according to transit historian Bradley Clarke of the Boston Street Railway Association. The station was substantially rebuilt in 1963 and renamed for the new Government Center taking shape above it from the ashes of Scollay Square, leveled by the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
US Representative Michael E. Capuano, 11 back then, asked if anyone else recalled the old old station. “This is a little bit better than that,” he joked, adding that “the last time I felt this good was when they took the wooden escalator out of the South Station stop on the Red Line.”
In reminiscing, Capuano, the former Somerville mayor, also looked ahead — hoping the ribbon-cutting would be mere prelude to “making the Green Line exactly what it should be, which is a full service to as many people as possible, including those who want to come to Government Center from Somerville, Cambridge, and Medford.”
That extension — the future of which was thrown into question last year after MBTA officials acknowledged that the project cost had ballooned another $1 billion, to roughly $3 billion — is one of the last remaining unfinished promises in a set of transit commitments the state made in 1990, to avoid a federal lawsuit from the Conservation Law Foundation over the air-quality impact of the Big Dig highway project.
Those commitments also included modernizing the Blue Line, with Government Center the last station on that line to be overhauled.
After a $25 million design and engineering phase that generated 1,000 drawings and 3,000 pages of specifications, the two years of construction at Government Center cost $88 million, according to the T.
A half-hour after the officials rolled away, the station was filled again with customers. Waiting for the Green Line, Verlin Allen of Roxbury admired the airiness. “They did a good job,” said Allen, 70, a nursing assistant. “I love it.”
Upstairs, Kieran Condon of Dorchester took in the soaring glass. “It’s much better, much brighter,” the 38-year-old said during his lunch break from Putnam Investments. Like many, he was there just to admire the new station. “I don’t want to go anywhere — I just thought I’d wander in.”
This story has been updated to include the name of the project’s architect and builder.