Three options have emerged from the study reviewing the potential expansion of the MBTA’s Silver Line service to Chelsea – a change in the City’s public transportation options that many are describing as a “game changer” in terms of being directly connected to the booming South Boston Waterfront.
This past week, officials from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) revealed their progress at another in a series of public meetings they are holding to gain input from local officials and residents. If the service is added, several stops in Chelsea could be connected to Airport Station and the Blue Line, the World Trade Center, the Federal Courthouse and South Station. South Station features connecting service to the Red Line and commuter rail south and west.
“We remain excited about the possibility and are working in great partnership with DOT to fully explore all the options,” City Manager Jay Ash told the audience of 50 that gathered in the City Council chambers.
Ash, along with Chelsea’s legislative delegation of Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Reps. Gene O’Flaherty and Kathi-Anne Reinstein, has been championing the “bus rapid transit” (BRT) service to expand job connections for local residents and enhance an already strong economic development climate in the city.
“There’s going to be tremendous job growth in the Seaport District over the next decade, so having a direct and convenient public transportation connection there will have so many benefits for us here in Chelsea,” stressed Ash, in explaining why he has referred to the expansion plan as a “game changer” for Chelsea.
Scott Hamwey, the DOT planner leading the study, told those assembled that the three potential routes under review continue to evolve.
• Option One relies upon a dedicated busway along the abandoned and active commuter rail corridors in Chelsea, beginning at the Massport Garage on Central Avenue and terminating in the Mystic Mall, with additional stops in the Box District at Gerrish and Highland and the existing commuter rail stop. •Option Two is a hybrid which utilizes the commuter rail corridors to and exits onto Chestnut Street to encircle City Hall before returning to Boston. Option Two does not travel near or into the Mystic Mall.
• Option Three travels mainly on local streets, including Central, Hawthorn, Sixth, Spruce and Everett, making several stops including in Bellingham Square and near, but not in, the Mystic Mall.
Hamwey went on to explain that Option One is projected to have the highest ridership, at 8,700 daily riders; would not require the loss of any parking spaces on city streets; would be the highest cost (with a preliminary estimate of $40 million to $70 million); and would take the longest to activate because several significant capital improvements would need to be made. Option Two is projected to serve 6,800 riders at a start-up cost in the range of $20 million to $35 million; would result in the loss of 30 parking spaces near the Central Fire Station and City Hall; and would take as long, if not longer, to build out as Option One.
Option Three is projected to transport 7,000 passengers, at an initial cost of $20 million to $25 million, and would be the fastest to start-up because it would utilize mostly existing city streets. However, that start-up speed would come at another cost – the loss of an estimated 80 parking spaces, mostly on Central Avenue and Hawthorn Street. It would also have higher annual operating costs.
The potential loss of parking caused several responders to offer their concerns about the viability of Option Three.
“The loss of parking would be a big issue for many residents and businesses along Central Avenue,” stressed Councillor Paula Barton.
“Parking is already at a premium, so any loss of parking is a concern, but the potential of losing as many as 80 really does make Option Three unattractive,” added Council President Dan Cortell.
Hamwey offered that the impact of the parking loss is well understood by study reviewers and is often raised at this stage of similar studies. He did speculate that the addition of service would likely mean that some would choose not to own cars, but he acknowledged the number of residents who would trade in their cars for BRT service would not approach the 80 spaces that could be lost.
“But that’s why we’re out here talking and listening to you; to get your concerns and factor them in to our future work on the study,” assured Hamwey, who was earlier praised by Ash for continuing to hear and prioritize local concerns.
Councillor Joe Perlatonda wondered if the reduced cost of Option Three would mean that the State would prefer that option. Hamwey answered in the negative and instead said that the preferred alternative would rise up from the community discussions and would be also judged by ridership and future economic development activity. He did note that there was not a direct appropriation for any of the options, so the question of how to pay for the expansion was still a good one to ask.
“Secretary (Richard) Davey (head of the State’s Office of Transportation and Construction) wants to see this happen, but the question of how to pay for it is a question that has not been answered yet,” said Hamwey. “We’ll have to wait to see what happens with the Legislature’s work on transportation finance. While we need a lot of money for any of the options, though, the good news is that in terms of the costs for new service, any of the options we are examining are modestly priced as compared to others that command hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars to construct.”
At the previous meeting, a show of hands reflected overwhelming support for Option One. Although no such vote was taken at this most recent meeting, Ash said that the informal conversations he had after the meeting continues to suggest that Option One is an overwhelming favorite of those who are weighing in on the subject; an option he favors as well.
“I’ve been saying, and I think most people agree, that the most important part of the bus rapid transit to us is ‘rapid,'” said Ash. “In order for this service to provide the maximum benefit to residents getting to work and our economic development agenda down the road, this service needs to get us in and out of Boston as fast as possible. Sitting in traffic in Bellingham Square doesn’t do that and will just give us more of what we already have. I’m keeping an open mind, though, and will continue to work with DOT to advance each of the alternatives so they can be fully reviewed locally.”
Last week’s meeting will be aired regularly on Chelsea Cable Television, and the PowerPoint presented, as well as other project information, can be found at massdot.state.ma.us/silverlinegateway.
Ash expects another public meeting before a final decision is made on the preferred option.