Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker remained optimistic on Tuesday, the first day of post-Labor Day travel, that the MBTA's Orange Line shutdown will end on schedule.
Baker walked the tracks of the Orange Line at Community College Station to get a closer look at the work the MBTA has been doing during the shutdown.
"Obviously there is a lot of work left to be done between now and the 19th of September, but I do believe the progress to date is pretty consistent with expectations. I’m optimistic they’ll get it done by then," he said.
So far, the month-long shutdown of the Orange Line has not had a major impact on highway traffic, though some regular Orange Line commuters say their daily commutes have been lengthened by having to take shuttle buses or the commuter rail while the work is being done.
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However, traffic typically picks up a bit in the week following Labor Day, when fewer people are off on summer vacation and colleges are in full swing.
It's something officials were keeping an eye on, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, along with the increase in number of students taking the T as the month goes on, but there were no early reports of major problems with shuttle buses.
"We've gotten back most of our riders, we just haven't gotten back the rides," he said, referring to "folks who were commuting five days a week are commuting something less."
It was the first day of school for students at Bunker Hill Community College, and for many, it was the first time taking the shuttle buses.
"It was really easy, actually, because of the sign and there was someone there waiting in front of the bus," Niquita Wangisara said.
Baker and Poftak were also joined by Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler and transportation officials for the tour, with nearly 60% of track work done. That's up from Friday, when T officials said over half of the maintenance work scheduled to take place during the 30-day shutdown had been completed.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority suspended passenger service along the 11-mile Orange Line on Aug. 19 to complete five years’ worth of track and signal replacement and maintenance as well as other projects in 30 days. Service is scheduled to resume at 5 a.m. on Sept. 19.
Poftak reiterated Tuesday that he's “cautiously confident” the work will be completed on time. Fourteen projects have been completed so far, including four core projects, he said.
He listed off a variety of project completion statistics: 47% of planned rail replacement is done, along with 65% of planned track replacement, 91% of special track work and 55% of signal system installation.
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“Right now the Orange Line is fully mobilized with multiple crews in multiple locations doing a tremendous amount of work, work that requires a great deal of choreography and staging, and just an amazing amount of cross departmental cooperation here at the T,” Poftak said Friday.
As an example of the work getting done, he said crews had replaced 900 feet of track in two days. Under normal overnight repair schedules, only 39 feet of track can be replaced per day.
The work is all part of the MBTA’s response to a safety Federal Transit Administration review following several problems and accidents that have led to injuries, and in one case, the death of a rider. The FTA released a scathing 90-page report last week that said the MBTA has for years prioritized capital projects over safety and maintenance.
Even while the FTA’s review was ongoing, a fire on an Orange Line train in July sent passengers scrambling out of windows and prompted one to jump into a river.
During the shutdown, the transit agency is providing shuttle buses between stations, while commuter rail lines are running with increased frequency.
The Orange Line normally handles about 100,000 trips per day, according to the MBTA, bringing commuters to work, students to school, and visitors to many of Boston’s top tourist attractions.
When the line reopens, the MBTA will also put 56 new cars into service, Poftak said.