State transportation officials gave residents an exciting look at the conceptual plans and renderings of the Silver Line Stations and bus route planned for Chelsea during a meeting on April 1 at City Hall.
While the pictures were pretty and colorful – instilling quite a bit of excitement into the capacity crowd in the Council Chambers – it was the nuts and bolts of the Washington Avenue bridge closing that was perhaps the biggest news of the day.
Transportation Planner Frank Astone told the crowd that the anticipated 18 month total closure of the bridge during its full reconstruction would be carved down to about 8-10 months.
That came, he said, after a meeting with Washington Avenue neighbors and first responders in the Fire Department – all worried that a complete closure could hamper their lives and work.
“The main thing that was going to take so long was that there are a lot of utilities on that bridge that have to be relocated,” Astone said. “However, the bridge is actually going to be closed about eight to 10 months. After a meeting with residents, we’ve decided to get all the utilities removed to the extent possible before shutting down the bridge completely…Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve taken a hard look at whether we could move these utilities before closing the bridge. We believe we can.”
That was welcome news to City Manager Jay Ash, and also to Fire Department officials, who were struggling to figure out how they would respond to northern parts of the city. Washington Avenue is considered a central artery serving the movement of traffic to most sections of western Chelsea and Prattville.
After that phase of bridge work, the second phase of construction will involve closing one lane of traffic and leaving one lane open. Currently, the plan is to allow southbound traffic through in order to accommodate the Rt. 111 bus – but City and Fire officials are still lobbying for a northbound opening.
Pedestrians will be able to cross the bridge throughout the entire process.
Another road closure announced would be Heard Street from time to time during the reconstruction of a retaining wall on the new Silver Line route.
“We will have to underpin a building over there,” said Astone. “We’ll close Heard Street on a weekend here or a week there – not a long time – but there will be construction that will force us to have to close Heard Street.”
The public meeting was officially held by state law because the overall project is now at 25-45 percent design – triggering an automatic public vetting.
State officials said they would begin advertising Phase 1 of the project in July, with a likely construction start in Spring 2015. Meanwhile, Phase 2 will likely overlap Phase 1, with construction expected to start in the fall of 2015.
The overall project is expected to cost $65 million and take three years to construct both phases.
“The idea of all this is to provide Chelsea with direct access to South Station, Logan Airport and the Seaport District,” said John Pavao, project manager for the state. “The busway will be 30 feet wide, two 12-foot lanes, and an exclusive shared space walking path. This extension will go all the way to the Mystic Mall.”
Pavao also said the state is still in the environmental permitting process, and had filed its Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) on March 31.
Phase 1 will include building out the new Silver Line roadway, three of the four Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) stations and replacing the Washington Avenue bridge.
The three stations to be constructed in the first phase will be located at Eastern Avenue (parking garage), the Box District and at the Mystic Mall (next to the current railroad track crossing and beside Market Basket).
Phase 2 of the project will be handled mostly by the MBTA and will involve constructing a brand new Commuter Rail Station next to the Mystic Mall BRT station behind Market Basket – creating a transportation hub that will envelope regular buses, the Silver Line and the Commuter Rail. Following the construction of the new Commuter Station, the MBTA will decommission the existing station and build the final BRT station at the downtown Chelsea Silver Line stop. That stop will basically be underneath the Washington Avenue bridge and will feature a handicapped-accessible walking path to connect with Washington Avenue/Bellingham Square.
The phasing was decided by officials due to a commitment of uninterrupted commuter rail service during the entirety of the project.
“One commitment we have during the entire project is not to disrupt commuter rail service to Chelsea,” said Astone. “That’s why we will not decommission the existing station until the new commuter rail station at the Mystic Mall is fully operational.”
In addition to bicycle racks, autofare machines at every stop and the new shared use walking path, Astone said the design team is quite proud of the new station designs – which are totally unique to this branch of the Silver Line.
“There is no other place on the MBTA system that uses this kind of structure,” he said. “This actually has a overhang that extends over the bus so that in bad weather you can still be protected from the elements when you step out to get on the bus.”
An overall opening is expected in 2018, and officials are still taking public comments and there will be more public meetings throughout the year.