Disconnect? Internet Report Says Red Line/Blue Line Project is in Jeopardy

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) has posted a message on its blog alerting residents and activists that the long awaited Red Line/Blue Line Connector project may be in jeopardy.

“The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (“MBTA”) spider-map has been praised and replicated in countries around the world, but it only takes one short look at the transit map to realize one obvious missing link: the Red Line and the Blue Line are the only two of Boston’s rapid transit lines that do not intersect. Six governors, over more than two decades, have legally committed the Commonwealth to fix this obvious problem. Earlier this week, however, the Patrick Administration decided to buck this trend by seeking permission to permanently and completely remove the legal obligation to finish the final design of the Red/Blue Line Connector, without proposing to substitute any other project for it,” said the blog alert on CLF’s website.

There’s been great deal of debate as to whether the state should finally connect the MBTA Blue Line with the Red Line’s Charles/MGH station–making the commute a whole lot easier for East Boston residents traveling to work in Cambridge or doctors appointments at Massachusetts General Hospital.

At several community meetings over the past two years, transportation officials have given an overview of the Red Line/Blue Line project before getting feedback from residents and those impacted by the project.

In July of 2010, the state’s environmental secretary approved the MBTA’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Red Line/Blue Line connector project and it seemed the project was gaining momentum.

“The Red/Blue Line Connector was originally supposed to be completed by December 31 of this year,” said CLF’s blog. “Less than five years ago, the Commonwealth had reaffirmed that it would at least design the connector by the same date. Part way through the design, the Commonwealth is throwing in the towel, stating that it is unrealistic to expect that construction of this project will be funded, although it has never really asked the state legislature or the federal government to fund this critical transit project and has not considered any more affordable options to accomplish the same goal.”

CLF argued that the result of this missing link, transit riders traveling from points along the Blue Line to the Red Line, or the other way round, must transfer twice by using either the Green or Orange Line, reducing ridership and unnecessarily increasing congestion at downtown Boston stations including Government Center, Park Street, State and Downtown Crossing.

“The need to transfer twice restricts access to jobs, such as those at the academic and medical institutions along the Red Line, particularly for residents of East Boston, Revere, Winthrop and Lynn, for whom the Blue Line is the only accessible subway route,” the blog said.

The proposed project would once and for all link the only two lines that do not currently intersect within the MBTA’s rapid transit system. The Blue Line, which is the shortest line in the system, runs from Bowdoin Station in downtown Boston to Wonderland Station in Revere, a distance of approximately seven miles. This project would extend the Blue Line approximately 1,500 feet underneath Cambridge Street to make a connection with Charles/MGH Station on the Red Line.

The Red Line/Blue Line Connector was a crucial MBTA project promised to the neighborhood that would make the commute easier for East Boston  residents who travel to jobs or doctors appointments in this area.

However, the Romney administration tried to renege on the commitment the state made to the city for its support of the Big Dig. The commitment to extend the Blue Line to the Charles/MGH stop on the Red Line was all but abandoned by Romney until the CLF sued the state.

In 2006, while Romney was still governor, his administration had a change of heart and signed an agreement to move forward on long-standing projects like the Red/Blue Connector, providing interim deadlines for existing projects, and by bolstering the public participation and oversight process agreement.

In March 2005, CLF sued the Commonwealth saying that the state had fallen substantially behind on a number of the transit projects promised to communities to offset the increased traffic and pollution from the Big Dig.

The settlement obligates the Commonwealth to prepare a final design of the Red-Blue connector, linking the Blue Line at Government Center with the Red Line’s Charles/MGH station.

The state said it had set aside $29 million to design the subway tunnel and as recent as last year the Department of Transportation held another meeting of a project-working group for the connector downtown.

“Many people do not have the choice between driving and taking public transportation,” said CLF’s blog. “The Blue Line, more than any other MBTA rapid transit line, serves almost exclusively communities where a large percentage of residents depend on mass transit. At the same time, residents of these communities are also in need of greater access to jobs. Likewise, many Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) patients need to travel from Revere, where MGH has a satellite clinic, to the hospital’s main campus in Boston’s West End. Taking public transportation under the current circumstances is not a simple trek for the infirm.”

CLF has long argued that the absence of a direct connection between the Red and Blue Lines makes travel far more difficult than necessary and often discourages the use of public transit.

For example, coming home from Cambridge, an East Boston resident has to wait on three different platforms for three trains. This can take particularly long for people who work at night, as many do, since the MBTA Rapid Transit lines’ arrival and departure times at Park Street, Government Center, Downtown Crossing and State Street are not coordinated and the trains are frequently delayed.  Even if on schedule, at 9:00 p.m. on a weekday, a trip from Harvard Square to Maverick Station involves 28 minutes of waiting time alone. By contrast, the route can be driven in less than 20 minutes.

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