As the warmer weather sets upon the City, the construction season in Chelsea has a full slate before it and, like never before, the projects set to begin will change the city in ways that will stretch long into the future.
None of those projects will impact the city more than the Silver Line Gateway extension project, which started work last week near the MassPort garage and on an old railroad right-of-way in the eastern part of the city.
Soon, it will extend to its most visible – and potentially frustrating – portion in the 18-month closure of the Washington Avenue Bridge.
“It’s going to be a summer of serious construction in the City and all of it will be trying to rehabilitate the infrastructure and also to provide recreational and transportation amenities,” said John DePriest, Chelsea City Planner. “There’s going to definitely be some serious construction going on with the Silver Line, and that started last week, but when it’s done we’ll have a greenway, an on-street greenway, a new transit line and a new Washington Avenue Bridge. It will be a major improvement.”
The Silver Line project has been long proposed, but was finally given the go-ahead a few years ago by the former administration. It included a bus rapid transit system running from South Station, through the South Boston Innovation District, to the airport and then across to Chelsea – finishing up at the Market Basket. It includes several new stations and a new commuter rail station, as well as a recreational greenway project. The project was continued in the new administration and big ideas on paper are now starting to be carried out by workers on the ground. Right now, only preliminary work on the roadbed is going on, but DePriest said there will be much more to come.
“The Silver Line part will get done first, and then the Greenway portion,” said DePriest. “It will all have to be done by December 2016, and the contractor has major financial incentives to finish quickly and on time or ahead of time.”
The actual Silver Line will cross over to Chelsea from Eastie on the Chelsea Street Bridge. It’s first station will be at the MassPort garage on Eastern Avenue. After that, there will be three more stations, including Box District, Downtown Chelsea (Chestnut Street) and Mystic Mall. At the Mystic Mall Station, there would also be a new Commuter Rail Station built to handle both modes of transportation.
The eastern leg of the Greenway will be a dedicated path for walking and biking and passive recreation. It will run right beside the Silver Line from Eastern Avenue to Chestnut Street with entry/exit points at each of the stations. That part of the project will be completed with the Silver Line project – likely after the busway is completed.
However, a second portion of the greenway, DePriest said, runs on the streets of Chelsea from Chestnut Street to the Mystic Mall. That western leg will include better signage, better sidewalks, bicycle lanes, street striping and other amenities – including a new configuration for Fay Square by the Central Fire Station.
DePriest said there just wasn’t enough room for a continued path on the busway after Chestnut Street.
“There will be a nice connection with the rest of the Greenway at Chestnut with a nice place to sit,” he said. “We chose Chestnut for a couple of reasons. One, because of the lack of space on the right-of-way, we could not go any further with the dedicated walkway. We could have come off at Broadway, but Chestnut brings you right to downtown and that brings economic development and business to the downtown area. We would hope that people would use the businesses and services because of that.”
The trail westbound includes Chestnut to 5th, 5th to Walnut, Walnut to 4th and up to Everett Avenue. Coming back, the path would follow 4th to Arlington, Arlington to 6th, and back to Chestnut.
DePriest said a bid for that work would would go out in late May or June, and work would proceed there some time this summer. There will be minimal disruptions, he said, with only street closings at various times for street striping work.
That, unfortunately, cannot be said for the Washington Avenue Bridge project.
That’s the doozy within the project that will be absolutely necessary, absolutely inconvenient and absolutely starting in a few months. That project will mean shutting down to all traffic one of the major arteries in the city for 12 to 18 months while the bridge is rebuilt.
“The Silver Line could not proceed if the bridge was not reconstructed,” he said. “They’ll be going down to one lane soon, and in about two months, it’s going to go down to no lanes. It will close completely for 12 to 18 months, but they’ll maintain pedestrian access on the side. All traffic will be detoured down Broadway to Cary Avenue. They’re keeping us well informed on that closure and how it will happen.”
The work will only take place during normal construction hours, though some weekend work could take place on occasion.
“There is work they have to do where they’ll have to shut down the commuter rail and that will have to happen on the weekends,” DePriest said. “That will likely happen for the first time in May.”
Some of the work might also continue through next winter.
“They’ll certainly work as late as they can into the winter,” he said. “There might even be components that could go on through the winter.”
To minimize impacts within all aspects of the project, contractors have agreed to not park in residential neighborhoods, to only park machinery on the right-of-way and not to stage any equipment in the neighborhoods. There will also be funding to keep a fourth fire engine on the western side of the city.
All in all, the project has the opportunity to link residents to important areas of Boston – including the Seaport Innovation District and the Red Line South Station terminal.
“That connection is to jobs and jobs for our residents potentially,” he said.