Somerville bridge closures extended due to GLX construction

Signs and cones in Ball Square alert drivers to the Broadway Bridge closure on Jan. 29. Alexander Thompson / The Tufts Daily

The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) has extended closures of three Somerville bridges impacted by the construction of the Green Line Extension (GLX) including the Broadway Bridge in Ball Square, an area popular with Tufts students.

The Broadway Bridge will now reopen in mid-July of this year, more than three months later than previously scheduled, and the reopening of the Medford Street bridge near Union Square will be delayed five months until the end of October, according to the updated MBTA schedule.

The schedule also announced a more minor delay for the Washington St. bridge in Union Square which will now open in May, while the School Street bridge near Somerville City Hall had its closure date pushed back a month and a half to June 2021.

At a meeting of the MBTA’s Fiscal Management and Control Board Monday afternoon, Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone said that he understands that any major project will face delays and reaffirmed his strong support for the project.

However, Curtatone, a leading advocate of the GLX, told the board he was frustrated by the delays.

“I need to be able to communicate to the people of my city, neighboring cities and towns with accuracy when we say that a bridge is going to open,” Curtatone said. “Being off by six months on one bridge — I have a hard time explaining that, and we need to know as a community that the timelines we’re adjusting are going to be real. That they’re not going to adjust again.”

Curtatone said that the bridge closures are putting a strain on emergency services, who have to go around the bridges to get to people in many cases, as well as police who have to provide details to the sites. The mayor also stressed that the closures have only compounded the city’s congestion.

Later on, GLX Program Manager John Dalton told the board that, despite the bridge closure extensions, the project remains on budget and on schedule to be completed in spring 2021.

As for the causes of the extensions, however, Dalton said that each had its own specific reason, without going into further detail.

The GLX, a $2.3 billion project which officially broke ground in 2018, will eventually extend light rail service all the way to Tufts’ doorstep at the intersection of Boston and College Avenues and will include a stop in Ball Square.

For the time being, though, some of the areas most heavily impacted by the construction and the accompanying bridge closures are the businesses in Ball Square and Magoun Square, which lie across the Broadway bridge from each other and which have already endured 10 and a half months of the closure.

The closures are estimated to have reduced circulation in Ball Square by 20%, and one business owner told the Daily in Oct. 2019 that the area feels “dead.”

Stephanie Clifford, a night manager at Taco Party, a taqueria just yards from the bridge, said that business had slowed since the closure and expressed disappointment about the delays.

“We hope it reopens as soon as possible,” Clifford said.

Down the street, Paperworks Store Manager Patrick McShane-Shanley said that he has seen fewer people coming into his store as well, though it has not affected business too badly.

The disruption of the MBTA bus route 89, however, has forced him to walk to work. It’s not all bad for McShane-Shanley, however.

“I’m getting my steps in,” McShane-Shanley said.

The MBTA will hold a public meeting to update the community on the progress of the GLX tonight at 6 p.m. at the East Somerville Community School.