Ash: Silver Line Will be like Gold for Chelsea

 “The Silver Line will be like gold,” mused City Manager Jay Ash in reaction to the latest advancement last week of the State project to bring the bus rapid transit (BRT) service to Chelsea.

Late in September, the State awarded a $33.8 million contract to McCourt Construction Company to build the first and most significant phase of the route that will connect the Mystic Mall in Chelsea to South Station in Boston, with seven stops in-between.

“It’s a transformative project; one that will connect us to the major transportation hub of South Station and all the jobs and activities that are springing up in New England’s fastest growing district, the Innovation District,” said Ash, who has been working on versions of the Silver Line service to Chelsea for nearly two decades.

“Furthermore,” continued Ash, “when the second phase of construction happens, which will include moving the commuter rail stop to the Mystic Mall, Chelsea will be the only city outside of Boston that has direct public transportation services to both North and South Station. The benefits of such are enormous.”

The second phase of construction referenced by Ash will include the building of a new commuter rail station at Mystic Mall, behind Market Basket, and the construction of a new Silver Line station at the existing commuter rail station, which will be decommissioned, on Sixth and Arlington Streets.  That Silver Line station will join the Mystic Mall and two other Chelsea stops, the Box District at Highland Street and Gerrish Avenue and the Massport Garage at the end of Central Avenue, with the Blue Line stop at the airport and the Silver Line Way, World Trade Center and Federal Court House in the Seaport District.  The last stop will be South Station, where the BRTs should be coming and going every 10 minutes or so. Ash estimates the total ride time between the Mystic Mall and South Station will be 25 minutes.

“Governor (Deval) Patrick and his administration, particularly Secretary of Transportation Rich Davey, along with our legislative delegation, led by Senator Sal DiDomenico and our former state representative, Gene O’Flaherty, have really delivered for Chelsea.  This project will create great opportunities for further economic development in Chelsea, connect us directly to thousands of jobs and making it more convenient to get to tens of thousands of more.  And, the new service will provide equity in public transportation that helps those who can least afford it find it easier to get to those jobs and other offerings that are available in Boston,” Ash stressed.

As Ash noted, that connection has been one he has long prioritized, first as the City’s economic development director in 1996 and ever since then.  The early concept of the Urban Ring, which was originally designed to be a $3 billion rapid transit system that would encircle Boston and intersect with all the trains that come in and around Boston, has proved to be elusive.  Ash continued to work the system though, and began thinking outside of the box.  When talks turned to a less expensive option, rubber wheels on a road instead of fixed wheels on a track, Ash was at the ready to advocate for the BRT as a first segment of what could still become the Urban Ring someday.

“I can’t even begin to count all the meetings in Boston and elsewhere and all the time I spent on getting us to this point.  That’s typically the case, though, with new public transportation services. It can take years, even decades, so it’s critical to keep the ball moving forward and then find the right time to score,” explained Ash.

Score he has, as Chelsea is about to see its first major public transportation service expansion since the commuter rail began stopping in Chelsea in 1985.  By the way, Ash was involved in that happening as a young legislative aide to then State Rep. Richard Voke.

“Public transportation is critical to unlock the possibilities of our great city and provide our residents with access to everything they need to enjoy better, more productive lives. We’re so close to everything, and yet study after study indicates that the more transfers you have to make on public transportation to get somewhere, the less one is likely to do it. Beginning in early 2017, we’ll all have a one seat ride to both North and South Station.

“I can’t wait,” exclaimed Ash.

While it will take until early 2017 to get the new service going, Ash isn’t waiting to take advantage of it.  He has been working his development contacts to secure additional transit-oriented development, and he has already begun advocating for the next major public transit service that could improve access and convenience for local residents.

“The development community is almost as excited as I am about the North/South Station connection thing.  And then when I start talking about how I’m chasing after DMUs, we get each other even more excited,” cheered Ash.

DMUs, or diesel multiple units, are self-contained train cars that include a diesel motor and a passenger compartment.  Smaller, they are quicker to start and stop, improving the time that it takes for the service to make connections.  Ash and others are advocating for the use of DMUs on existing commuter rail lines to give those lines a more rapid transit feel than the slower commuter rail trains provide.

“Our future continues to be full of optimism, optimism that is based in reality when you see what we’ve already accomplished.  The Silver Line is turning to be one of those accomplishments and another great foundational piece that will enable us to build a stronger, more prosperous community,” said Ash.

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