Simultaneous Green and Orange Line closures frustrate commuters

Evan Slack / The Tufts Daily Archives
A sign promoting the MBTA Green Line Extension project is pictured on April 17, 2018.
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The MBTA announced on Aug. 5 that the Green Line Extension Medford branch — which was scheduled to be completed by the end of the summer — will not open until late November. This is the project’s third delay from the planned completion date of December 2021.

The MBTA simultaneously announced that the recently opened Union Square branch of the GLX will be closed from Aug. 22 to Sept. 18 for additional repairs.

“The work has been very slow,” Laurel Ruma, the GLX community working group representative from College Avenue in Medford, said. “There have been massive problems with hiring folks. [The work] is done in piecemeal, so whatever contractor has the time will show up and do the work.”

The GLX delay was announced two days after the MBTA’s decision to close the entire Orange Line from Aug. 19 to Sept. 18 for repairs. The MBTA is currently under review by the Federal Transportation Administration following multiple serious incidents, including deaths, derailments and a fire, over the past 14 months.

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Jennifer Dorsen, who represents the Somerville side of Ball Square in the community working group, said she is frustrated with delays and the lack of funding or care for public transportation.

“The T is such a mess right now that you should have known that it was too good to be true that they were on schedule to open when they said,” Dorsen said. “[There is] incredible frustration and anger that our public transportation system is in such a mess that this [closure] was necessary.”

Ruma said that the GLX delay would likely have occurred even without the larger problems occurring within the MBTA. She cited pandemic supply chain issues and difficulty hiring contractors as factors for why construction has taken so long.

“It’s no surprise to anyone who’s been watching the project closely,” Ruma said. “So for people who live in the neighborhood, it’s been very clear for a long time — throughout the summer [and] throughout the spring — that the MBTA was definitely not on schedule with completing the Green Line.” 

A spokesperson from the MBTA declined to comment for this article.

To compensate for lost Orange Line service, the MBTA has over 160 free shuttle buses running along the Orange Line route with additional bus-only lanes. The agency encouraged commuters to work from home if possible or find alternate methods of transportation, such as biking or taking the commuter rail. 

Boston also temporarily made 30-day Bluebikes passes free throughout the city, and has implemented a shuttle bus in Chinatown running every 30 minutes from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn said the city has taken a proactive approach in response to these closures, since both the Orange Line and the GLX run through Medford.

“I’m glad [the MBTA is] trying to make the T safer and trying to replace tracks that are 40 years old,” she said. “[Medford has] worked with the T and given them the locations where we believe detail officers should be put in place … We set up an emergency operation center … just to be prepared in case there was chaos in our streets and gridlock and any type of [issue] where you have more bikers and more pedestrians on the roads, and more cars.”

Lungo-Koehn said that the first few days of the Orange and Green Line closures went relatively smoothly, adding that the city is preparing for the back-to-school rush.

“It seems like people are listening, people are working from home if they can, they’re avoiding the areas if they can,” she said. “We’re getting ready for K-12 students going back to school on the 30th so we know there’ll be an uptick in traffic and shuttle bus use then.”

She added that all public streets in Medford within a quarter mile of the GLX stops will switch to permit parking to ensure that residents still have parking access once the extension opens.

Rocco DiRico, executive director of government and community relations at Tufts, said that students on the Health Sciences Campus will be particularly impacted by the Orange and Green Line closures.

“Many of our students, particularly those on our Health Sciences Campus in Boston, rely on the Orange Line to get to and from campus,” DiRico wrote in an email to the Daily. “We have communicated with students, faculty and staff on the Health Sciences campus in Boston to inform them of alternative options.”

DiRico added that Tufts is partnering with Bluebikes to extend the 50% student discount to annual memberships and working to get more Bluebikes located near campus.

Dorsen is disappointed that the MBTA is not a reliable mode of transit for many community members right now, some of whom view access to public transportation as an issue of social justice and economic necessity.

“If you don’t use [public transportation], you don’t notice it because you’re not using it,” Dorsen said. “But as soon as you start to need it, you realize what a critical component of urban life it is.”

Ruma also expressed frustration that the MBTA’s Better Bus Project will significantly limit bus services directly to GLX stations in the long term. “The MBTA is eliminating almost all bus service to and from Green Line Extension stops, and I have to say that is top of mind concern for everyone,” she said.

Ruma added that the MBTA’s crises have highlighted leadership from the mayors of Boston, Medford and Somerville.

“Watching Mayor Wu actually take different modes of transportation each day to try to see what everyone else is seeing on the ground and then reporting back to the team is exceedingly important,” Ruma said. “I’ve been very encouraged by the response of the mayors. I think we’re seeing excellent leadership from Mayors Wu, Lungo-Koehn and Ballantyne.”

Ruma and DiRico agreed that, despite the delays, the GLX Medford branch’s opening is still a success for public transportation in the area.

“While the GLX Medford/Tufts delay is disappointing, I am excited to hear that the station will be opening in November,” DiRico said. “[The GLX] will connect three of our campuses: Medford/Somerville, Chinatown and the Fenway, making it easier for our students to travel back and forth.”

Lungo-Koehn says she is committed to opening the GLX Medford branch as soon as possible. “I can assure you that I’m trying to stay on top of it and push where I can … to make sure that the end-of-November timeframe is a go,” she said.

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