Trains are parked in Wellington Yard outside an Orange Line maintenance facility on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. Photo by Chris Lisinski | State House News Service

A business-backed group says it’s offered a plan to Gov. Charlie Baker that it claims could cut the planned Orange Line shutdown in half and generate more work hours than the MBTA’s current plans.

A Better City, a transportation and planning advocacy group backed by over 100 downtown businesses and real estate interests, says it delivered a plan to the governor’s office Monday based on concerns from riders, school officials, businesses, hospitals and universities that extending the Orange Line shutdown after Labor Day would create serious problems as workers and students return from summer vacations in droves.

The MBTA’s current plan would shut down the Orange Line, its second-busiest and carrier of over 100,000 riders a day, from Aug. 18 to Sept. 19 so that work crews can have unimpeded access to tracks, signals and other aspects of the subway’s infrastructure without having to spend up to two hours to set up for construction work and another two hours to clean up for an overnight closure, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak told reporters at a press conference last week.

Poftak said the shutdown is necessary to rapidly replace 3,500 feet of track, including in areas deemed unsafe by federal inspectors, as well as signal upgrades and other long-planned maintenance projects that the T would like to complete at the same time in order to avoid other diversions and shutdowns. At last week’s press conference, Baker said that the month-long shutdown would do the same work five years of weekend and nighttime diversions would accomplish.

In addition, contractors demolishing part of the Government Center Garage that hangs over the MBTA’s Orange and Green Line tunnels as part of the Bulfinch Crossing development will get extra time to complete their work. Part of the garage collapsed onto the tunnels’ roofs in March, killing a construction worker, and the garage’s support columns that run through the tunnel area are severely corroded.

During the shutdown, the MBTA is planning to have riders use a combination of commuter rail trains and free shuttle buses to reach downtown, but won’t provide any through-running replacement service. The shutdown will coincide with a closure of the MBTA’s Green Line north of Government Center to speed work on the garage demolition and repair defects in its new Union Square extension.

“The month-long shutdown of the entire Orange Line would cause more harm to the regional economy than is necessary to address the significant problems that exist and would create a dramatically unfair burden on our transit-dependent population,” Jim Tierney, market director for JLL New England and A Better City board chair said in a statement. “Governor Baker should expeditiously consider A Better City’s alternative plan, which would limit impacts to riders and our economy alike as we enter the critical post-Labor Day return to work and school.

Instead, A Better City is proposing the MBTA shut down the Orange Line in its entirety for only two weeks, from Aug. 19 to Sept. 5, and then run seven successive weekend shutdowns between Sept. 9 and Oct. 22. The plan claims that it can give construction crews 792 hours of possible work time, compared to the 764 in the MBTA plan.

“The urgency of restoring safe and reliable service across the MBTA system is well understood, but so is the impact the hastily announced complete shutdown of the Orange Line will have on more than 100,000 riders, many of whom are low income and transit-dependent, trying to get to work, school, and otherwise live their lives,” A Better City President and CEO Rick Dimino said in a statement. “A Better City believes that a shorter full shutdown is the most viable approach to help the MBTA immediately address the FTA’s safety concerns on the Orange Line without crippling the economy as we enter the post-Labor Day period.”

Transit advocacy group TransitMatters also threw its support behind the A Better City plan.

“Given that a significant part of the Orange Line’s ridership comes from Environment Justice communities, the T should be doing everything possible to lessen the impact of this shutdown, including considering A Better City’s alternative plan that would reduce complete shutdown times,” TransitMatters Executive Director Jarred Johnson said in a statement.

Neither the MBTA and the Baker administration were immediately available for comment.

Biz Group Offers Proposal to Reopen Orange Line After Labor Day

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 3 min