Red Line from Harvard to Alewife to close for four weekends

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is closing the Red Line between Alewife and Harvard Stations on four upcoming weekends, including Thanksgiving weekend, to continue repairs that began in 2011.

The Porter Square, Davis Square and Alewife stations will be closed the weekends of Nov. 17, Nov. 24, Dec. 1 and Dec. 8.

The repairs are part of the second stage of the Floating Slab Project, an effort by the MBTA to replace concrete slabs, parts of tracks and part of the third rail, as well as fixing leaks, according to MBTA Advisory Board Executive Director Paul Regan.

The MBTA will provide shuttle buses between the Alewife and Harvard stations as they did during the repairs last fall and winter.

As of now, there is no plan to reinstate the shuttle from Tufts to Harvard that ran during the Davis Square closure last year, according to Director of Facilities Services Bob Burns.

“Part of the reason could be that we haven’t seen or heard from any students, but the second part is that it’s very costly too, so we would need to weigh the two,” Burns said. “Last year … [the MBTA] shut down that last leg of the stops on the Red Line for about three months, but if it’s going to be just [a few weekends] over a couple months, we’d really have to think hard before we’d do that.”

Burns noted that Facilities will not consider bringing back the Harvard shuttle unless students voice concerns about the closures.

“If there is a ground swell of [interest], we’ll need to hear it as of right now,” Burns said. “No one’s gotten a hold of me or … anyone on the staff, so at this point we have no plans to reinstitute the other shuttle.”

According to an October 2012 MBTA outline of the project, “the nearest point of access [for bringing in materials] is a high rail truck pad 2.2 miles from Harvard station near the Longfellow Bridge in Cambridge.”

“We’re bringing in a lot of big materials, things that don’t fit easily into the tunnels,” Regan said. “There are only so many spots where you can access the system with big materials.”

Partially for this reason, this stage of the project cannot be completed in the hours when the T closes overnight, Regan explained.

“The five hours overnight are dedicated to ongoing maintenance that keeps the system running,” Regan added.

Regan explained that completing the project is crucial for both passengers’ and area residents’ safety.

“It’s a section of tunnel that goes through a very populated area,” he said.

The floating slab system involves a concrete slab resting on rubber disks, which serve to minimize vibrations and wear and tear.

“We underestimated the amount of leakage we were going to get,” Regan said. “[The MBTA] hasn’t had the money to do maintenance that would be getting more usage out of the slabs.”

Though the project involves closing the section of the Red Line over Thanksgiving weekend, Regan said that it is important to conduct the repairs before the risk of bad weather becomes too great. The MBTA plans repairs on a seasonal schedule, he added.

“When weather is good, we want to do projects outside,” Regan said. “As the weather changes, we move into the tunnels.”

The Floating Slab Project is part of the MBTA’s $34 million Capital Improvement Project and is partially funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

“We were given a deadline [by the government] to find projects where people could be put to work quickly,” Regan said.

He emphasized that the ARRA’s funding of the project has allowed the MBTA to move forward with the construction.

“There’s a finite amount of money the MBTA can spend on capital projects,” Regan said.

Regan anticipates there will be no more major closes on the Red Line after this stage of the project, though there may be more weekend closures in fall 2013, according to MBTA’s project outline.

The project is slated for completion in 2017, according to Regan.

“If you look at the five?year capital plan, it includes payments up to 2017,” he said.