As part of the MBTA’s Focus 40 planning initiative that outlines the MBTA’s goals for the next 40 years, the RedLine/Blue Line Connector was omitted and a plan to create a pedestrian connector was offered as an alternative.
The decision received immediate backlash from East Boston’s elected officials whohave spent years lobbying to have the the project to connect the only two train lines that currently do not intersect off the ground.
Last week, after testimony from Rep. Adrian Madaro, Sen. Joseph Boncore and City Councilor Lydia Edwards at the state’s Fiscal Management and Control Board the MBTA decided to put the Red Line/Blue Line Connector back into the Focus 40 planning initiative.
In 2010 the MBTA released a study on the viability of connecting the Red Line to the Blue Line at the Charles Street/MGH stop. This would make commuting for East Boston residents heading to doctors appointments at Mass. General or jobs in Cambridge a whole lot easier.
The Red-Blue Connector project was a commitment outlined through the Big Dig Memorandum of Understanding in 1990, but nearly 30 years later, this commitment remains unfulfilled. For decades the state pointed to the cost of constructing a 1,5000 ft. tunnel under Cambridge Street from Bowdoin to the Charles Street/MGH stop as a way to wiggle out of the commitment.
The 2010 study was based on using a very expensive boring machine to get the job done. Using that method, as well as taking into account design and cost overruns, the project ballooned to anywhere between $413 million to $748 million.
However, last year the MBTA admitted that if the state used a ‘cut and cover’ construction method where workers tear up Cambridge Street and then lay in the tunnel the cost of the project could shrink to between $200 million and $250 million. While this method would be faster than boring it would cause more traffic disruptions on Cambridge Street. However, the work could be kept all underground at a cost of $350 million, a number that is still well below the 2010 reports. Madaro said he was encouraged by the new estimates after they were released and glad this helped sway the state to put the project back on track.
“After years of delays, now is the time to make the Red Line-Blue Line connector a reality,” said Madaro. “With this new study revealing the cost of construction to be half of the previous estimate, we must invest in this critical piece of infrastructure to connect East Boston and the North Shore to important economic corridors along the Red Line. As costs go down, the viability of this project becomes more reasonable and it must be pursued.”
Madaro said the previous gubernatorial administration’s abandonment of its commitment to this project was not only an economic injustice, but also likely done in violation of Environmental Justice policies.
“The decision ignored and undermined populations served by the Blue and Red Lines, which include some of the lowest-income residents in the Boston area,” said Madaro at last week’s hearing. “Currently, passengers who utilize these lines are required to change trains several times or to walk the significant distance between Bowdoin and Charles/MGH Stations, not an easy trek for those with mobility challenges or in inclement weather, nor an affordable one for those who are required to pay to tap back into the system. To ignore this long-promised and much-needed project would be tantamount to the highest disservice to those who rely on public transportation, particularly residents of the North Shore, who have repeatedly been denied this most basic and sensible of updates to the transit system.”
The Red Line/Blue Line Connector was meant to mitigate increased automobile use and reduce vehicular congestion on the streets of Eastie. It would also be a valuable economic link between the North Shore and economically important areas. The lack of a direct rail connection has long kept Eastie residents from job rich areas in Kendall and the Seaport.
The Red Line/Blue Line Connector would also decrease the congestion found at Park Street and Government Center stations caused by a time-consuming transfer which acts as a hassle and deterrent to commuters and travelers alike. “The Blue Line-Red Line connector will be a fundamental step in updating the MBTA subway system in anticipation of future transportation needs as East Boston, the North Shore, and Logan Airport continue to grow and the highways and tunnels into Boston face increasing gridlock,” said Madro. “With the upcoming connection of Airport Station to Terminal E of Logan Airport, the connector would dramatically increase the convenience of travel to and from the airport. For development throughout the region, “transit-oriented” is now a key phrase, emphasizing the convenience of new residents being able to forego cars and take the T. Suffolk Downs, which is projected to add up to 10,000 new units of housing in addition to retail, business, and hotel space over the next 20 years, has oriented the entire site with Beachmont and Suffolk Downs stations as its “front door”. Expansion at Massachusetts General Hospital will bring more patients to this regional leader in healthcare. As the area continues to grow and Massport, the city, and private developers alike promote MBTA service as an alternative to vehicle transit, it is more important now than ever to improve the Blue Line’s connectivity to other lines.”