Just as the Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line gets ready to launch in Chelsea on April 21, State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said in a meeting in Boston that she would like to see it eventually expand to Everett – a plan that Everett officials and the Lower Mystic Regional Transportation Working Group has touted as well.
The Silver Line 3 (SL-3) will being operations on April 21, making a 30-minute journey from the Mystic (Market Basket) Mall to South Station, via Logan Airport and the Seaport in Boston, every 10 minutes. The BRT will run on a separate bus-only lane through Chelsea and over the Chelsea Street Bridge.
Pollack said that a draft of the soon-to-be-released Transportation plan, called Focus 40, will have a recommendation for Everett to be included in an expansion of the new Silver Line service.
“That service will open on April 21, and we’re looking forward to the opening,” she said. “That is a BRT service and we hope to continue it from Chelsea into Everett and Sullivan Square and other highly congested areas. That’s one other thing we are looking at in our Focus 40 plan.”
Those statements came at a breakfast in the Back Bay on March 20 where Pollack was the keynote speaker and addressing investment in the Orange Line. She also highlighted the new Silver Line service and the agency’s hopes to expand it in the years to come.
By Seth Daniel
The new Chelsea Station behind the Market Basket on Everett Avenue is nearly completed now, with a goal of opening up service at the four new stations on the new SL3 line in April.
A projected 19 minute ride with no transfers from downtown Chelsea to the Seaport in Boston is but months away as the MBTA puts the finishing touches on four stations and the dedicated busway in Chelsea’s new Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line – which will be known as SL3.
Already, a great amount of excitement has built throughout the community as the stations begin to look like finished products and the lettering denoting ‘Eastern Avenue’ and ‘Chelsea’ have been affixed to those stations. A spokesman for the MBTA said the T is excited to start service in April.
“The MBTA and MassDOT are very excited to be just months away from introducing Bur Rapid Transit service for customers traveling to and from Chelsea,” said Joe Pesaturo, for the MBTA. “The MBTA anticipates beginning Silver Line Gateway service in the early spring of next year. The existing Silver Line in Boston has been very popular since its launch because of the frequent levels of service and increased capacity. MBTA General Manager Luis Ramirez is looking forward to a celebration in the spring in Chelsea to mark the start of service.”
The completion of the four new BRT stations and the dedicated busway will conclude Phase 1 of the Silver Line Gateway expansion project – which has essentially brought the Silver Line from Logan Airport over to Chelsea. The new Chelsea service, however, will not go to the airport and the SL3 line will bypass the airport with a stop at the Blue Line Train Station where airport shuttles can be taken to terminals.
In documents presented to the MBTA Board last summer, the new service expects to have a total daily ridership of 8,730 people, with new transit trips being 2,500 (meaning people that will use the service who now do not use the MBTA).
At peak, it is estimated there will be 22 BRT buses on all three Silver Line routes, and that the SL3 Chelsea wait times will be around 10-12 minutes at peak times and 12-15 minutes at off-peak times.
MBTA estimates show that currently to get to the World Trade Center stop in the Seaport from downtown Chelsea takes 37 minutes and requires two transfers. That would be paired down to 19 minutes and no transfers on the new SL3 line.
To go from the airport to the World Trade Center station now takes 20 minutes with one transfer. The SL3 line would take seven minutes and no transfers.
The entire first phase of the Silver Line Gateway project cost $46.5 million and included rebuilding the Washington Avenue bridge, constructing a 1.1 mile dedicated busway, a half-mile shared-use path and the four new stations.
A second phase has been fully funded at about $29 million and includes building the Chelsea Intermodal Center, which includes a new Commuter Rail Station and a new railroad signaling system to improve traffic flow in Chelsea. The new station, unlike the existing station, will be fully accessible. The MBTA expects to solicit construction bids for Phase 2 this winter, with work beginning next summer.
One of the key initiatives for MBTA General Manager Ramirez, he said, is to get a comprehensive strategy for marketing a promoting the new service well in advance of the launch. Many of the new service options introduced by the MBTA in recent years suffer from low ridership due in many cases to people having little information about the new service.
The MBTA right now is working to select a qualified firm to handle the jobs of:
•Advertise the new service to existing and prospective customers.
•Highlight the benefits of Silver Line Gateway service relative to existing bus services in the area, including dedicated lanes and limited stops.
•Promote the ongoing work the MBTA is doing to improve its transportation offerings.
“The firm will work with the MBTA to develop well-rounded marketing and communications strategies that achieve the goals, including but not limited to market research, specifying target audiences, generating message concepts, proposing an effective mix of media, and partnering with local community organizations as part of the public outreach strategy,” said Pesaturo.
By Seth Daniel
The Chelsea City Council voted 11-0 to on Monday night to begin looking at the forthcoming, new Silver Line Stations and how to prevent commuters from hogging parking spaces.
Councillor Roy Avellaneda introduced the order at Monday’s Council meeting in order to get ahead of what could certainly become an immediate problem once the Silver Line opens some time in the spring.
With working moving at a rapid pace, and residents now able to see the stations and where they will be, Avellaneda said he was compelled to call for some sort of study.
“There areas of the city where these new stations would open are certainly vulnerable and we should think about some parking regulations around them,” he said. “I can imagine there will be outsiders parking in these areas if allowed. So that we don’t harm our residents living in these areas, we should look at doing these parking restrictions now.”
Avellaneda received unanimous support on the Council, and his order calls for a working group to be assembled to look at what might work at the new stations.
The working group would include city councillors, the city manager, the city clerk, the police chief and the Planning Department.
By Seth Daniel
City Councillors will be debating a spending request from City Manager Tom Ambrosino in the coming weeks that calls for an additional $600,000 in fire overtime funds to be expended from the City’s Free Cash account.
The Budget last year already included $900,000 for overtime, in what was controversial at the time, and together, fire overtime in this year’s budget would total out to be $1.5 million.
That comes on top of state overtime money for the Silver Line project that funded a fourth engine company at an expense of $1.372 million – all of which was state money approved within the Silver Line project.
Another controversial expenditure that will likely be brought up again is the ‘Out of Grade’ pay, which went over budge by $80,000. Out of grade pay results when an injury occurs to a superior officer and a subordinate officer has to step into the higher rank position, which results in a higher pay grade. Chelsea has routinely had several superior fire officers go out on injury and several step-ups to fill the higher position.
A third piece that is drawing attention from the Fire Department is the uncollectible fire details, which is at $105,116. Fire details sometimes are hired or required, and there are times when the property owner(s) do not pay the bill. The City routinely pays the firefighters and then absorbs the cost of the uncollected detail bills. This year, the fire portion came in at more than $100,000.
“My concerns within the Budget process and then now with deficit accounts are these three areas,” said Councillor Leo Robinson. “I am concerned about fire overtime, about out of grade pay and about the uncollected details. We need to spend wisely. This was supposed to be better tracked and fixed last year when we had the same problems.”
By Seth Daniel
Though buses could be rolling on the new Silver Line extension in Chelsea one year from now, the second phase of the project – which includes a key commuter rail station and downtown Silver Line station – lies in peril as the state Transportation Department waits on word of a crucial federal grant.
“There is a funding issue with the construction of Phase 2,” said City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “I believe the MBTA is putting in a TIGER grant for the funding. We’re hoping that will be successful. If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to look at alternate options. We’re certainly hoping that works out. It’s an important project for Chelsea and for the state.”
Phase 2 of the project includes relocating the commuter rail station from its current location and building a brand new station adjacent to the Mystic Mall. It also includes building a Silver Line Station downtown under the Washington Avenue Bridge – a station that is believed to be the busiest in the entire new network. Phase 2 also includes the signals at all grade intersections.
The Silver Line Phase 1 project is currently on time and potentially ready to roll in spring 2017.
“Phase 1 is still fully funded and the design for Phase 2 is fully funded as well,” said Ambrosino. “Nothing is being held up in terms of that phase and the MBTA indicates they are on time. We expect them to being offering service in early 2017.”
Meanwhile, the Washington Avenue Bridge project, which has been closed to all traffic since last July, could come on line in September.
However, that too, could be threatened by the Verizon phone worker strike – as the utility is responsible for re-installing utility lines on the bridge when it is completed.
“The Washington Avenue Bridge is open northbound to emergency vehicles only as requested by the City of Chelsea since Jan. 16,” said Ryan Grannan-Doll of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT). “The second phase of the Washington Avenue Bridge is scheduled to be completed by September 2016. They also estimate the bridge would reopen in September. However, the completion date could be delayed due to the ongoing Verizon strike.”
Ambrosino said he is hoping that the MBTA prevails in getting the grant, as it will make the new system much better.
“It will work with just Phase 1, but won’t be as vibrant and aesthetically pleasing as it would be with Phase 2,” said Ambrosino.
While most officials and business leaders for the City of Boston and for Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration are doing flips over the news of General Electric’s decision to locate its world headquarters in Boston’s Seaport District, there’s good reason for Chelsea officials and residents to perhaps turn some cartwheels over the news as well.
General Electric (GE) made the announcement last week, noting that 800 jobs would come with the move. Some of those jobs would be new and meant to be filled by local residents, while others would be transferred in positions – requiring new homes to be found.
With the Silver Line expansion underway in Chelsea, a clear path will lead right to those jobs and others in the Seaport just a few years from now.
State Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash, Chelsea’s former city manager, said he feels Chelsea is perfectly positioned to take advantage of announcements like GE’s in the Seaport District.
“As Boston’s Seaport District continues to grow in prominence, and GE’s announcement last week shows just how prominent it will be, the connectivity that the Silver Line will provide to Chelsea again highlights why so many of us thought the new service would be so important for Chelsea’s residents,” said Ash, who had championed the idea for nearly 15 years before it came to fruition. “There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of great paying jobs that will be created in the Seaport District, and the ability of Chelsea’s residents to access them directly and quickly will open great job opportunities for them. Additionally, people working in the Seaport will find it convenient to live in Chelsea, thereby opening up new opportunities for the city to continue to be a terrific residential choice for those working in Boston. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Marriott hotel also benefit from being so close and so conveniently connected, as well.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said Chelsea does have reason to be optimistic about its newfound connectedness to the thriving Seaport District – where GE and other such companies could locate.
“Other than South Boston, we’re probably the closest residential area to the Seaport District and with new access to the Silver Line, maybe some of those people will want to live in Chelsea,” he said. “There are also a lot of opportunities for jobs for current Chelsea residents, perhaps at GE or any of the other companies there. I think it will pay dividends and this is one particular place where than new access might be of great benefit.”
Bringing General Electric’s operations to the Seaport District will cement the company as an anchor in the city’s innovation industry. The Commonwealth offered incentives up to $120 million through grants and other programs and up to $25 million was offered from the City of Boston in property tax relief. Additional incentives offered to General Electric include:
- $1 million in grants for workforce training;
- Up to $5 million for an innovation center to forge connections between GE, innovators from Massachusetts research institutions and the higher education community;
- Commitment to existing local transportation improvements in the Seaport District;
- Appointment of a joint relocation team to ease the transition for employees moving to Boston;
- Assistance for eligible employees looking to buy homes in the Boston area.
As the new Silver Line Station soon begins to take shape in the Box District at the northern end of Highland Street later this year or early next year, City officials predict a daily exodus of workers and commuters coming down the street and to the station.
Such a walk, right now, is no hard ordeal – aside from the steep hill and long staircase – but it’s not a pretty walk, and what isn’t in disrepair isn’t exactly inspiring. Highland Street is one of the few north and south streets in the densely populated east side of the city that runs unobstructed for pedestrians from the waterfront to the train tracks – where there will soon be a new station.
Keeping all of that in mind, City planners have put together a cobbling of plans to make the Highland Street corridor more interesting, more pedestrian friendly and a true connecting point for residents on either side of the hill.
The plan, according to Planner John DePriest, is known as the Highland Greenway.
Already, on April 30, the City held a meeting to detail the plans underway for the proposed project, which will begin construction, it is hoped, in July.
The centerpiece of that project will be the rehabilitation of Bellingham Hill Park, but will also include a small passive park at 97 Library St. and improvements to the Highland Stairs. Those improvements will be connected with a greening of the whole pathway, along with the existing Box District Park at the corner of Highland and Gerrish (which is only two years old).
“We want to make a visual connection to the Greenway but also connect the neighborhood to the new Silver Line Station,” said DePriest. “We’ve started to design process for Bellingham Hill park, which has to be done by June 30, 2016. We plan to put a new park at 97 Library St. and improve the stairs. In between those areas and down to the Box District Silver Line Station, we’ll make streetscape improvements to create a green corridor. We’ll have more trees and we’ll trim the trees on the stairs. We’ll do crosswalks and better signage.”
Design of Bellingham Hill Park is to conclude in June, and construction is expected to begin in July – with a goal of finishing this fall. The park project will cost $800,000, with half of that being picked up via a state grant.
Ann Houston, executive director of The Neighborhood Developers (TND), said the Greenway project came out of a plan that her organization helped create in 2009 – known as the Bellingham Hill Action Plan. With a big stake in the properties along Highland Street and in the Box District, TND is more than happy to see the idea sprout.
“We’re just delighted it’s now coming into fruition,” said Houston. “Highland is such an important corridor. It does connect the Shurtleff-Bellingham neighborhood, but it could definitely use some greening. That would definitely help things. This project is terrific and an important piece in improving this neighborhood and making it a really pleasant place.”
One challenge identified by Houston and Emily Loomis, also of TND, is the fact that the stairs lie right int he middle of the plan. The stairs were implemented several years ago and were certainly an improvement, but the last chapter on making the stairs perfect has yet to be written.
It is hoped that it will be written with the current project.
“It’s such a challenge there particularly because of it’s grade and the narrow size of the area,” said Loomis. “I think there is consensus around making it more attractive, clean and safe.”
“They are a real challenge,” added Houston. “We talked about this a great deal during our action plan. The greatest challenge of them being that they’re pretty steep…I don’t know what the answer is, but there has been some ideas around terracing it for gardening, or even terracing it for resting places.”
That, however, is just Phase 1 of the overall idea.
The second phase, DePriest said, is about the other side of the hill – connecting Bellingham Hill Park to the waterfront and, ultimately, the PORT Park on Marginal Street.
Already, sidewalk improvements are underway this spring to help get that part of the phase 2 up and running.
Nothing is set in stone just yet for how Phase 2 will look or when it will happen.
All that’s known now is that the City doesn’t want to stop at the top of the hill.
“The bigger idea is to connect the entire area down to the PORT Park on Marginal Street so that there’s one uniform corridor making it very easy to go back and forth,” he said. “That, however, will be the subject of a future grant.”
A worker walks the rail bed near Cottage Street this week, a rail bed that is now being transformed into an extension of the bus rapid transit Silver Line. The long-awaited project began construction last week.
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.
The state Department of Transportation (DOT) Board voted Wednesday to award the Silver Line Gateway project contract to McCourt Construction Company.
The contract is worth $33,752,196.
The contract award marks another significant step on the road to getting the Silver Line expanded from East Boston to Chelsea, where it will travel in a dedicated bus lane through the city and end at the Mystic Mall.
The contract is for Phase 1 of the project.
In the first stage of a multi-phased project, a 1.3-mile long dedicated Bus Rapid Transit lane will be built from just west of the Mystic Mall to Eastern Avenue. The bus-way will be comprised of two 12-foot travel lanes and two 3-foot shoulders. Under the newly approved contract, there will be three new stations built along the bus-way at Eastern Avenue, Box District, and Mystic Mall. The Silver Line stations will have inbound and outbound platforms, and include canopies, shelters, bicycle racks, lighting, signage, fare collection equipment, variable message signs, and closed circuit television cameras.
“This project was the result of an extensive public process involving residents, businesses, community organizations and elected officials in Chelsea and Boston,” said MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott. “Silver Line Gateway will close the transit gap between residents in Chelsea and East Boston and the growing employment opportunities in the Seaport District.”
The project also includes the replacement of the Washington Avenue Bridge over the existing Commuter Rail Tracks and the new Silver Line Bus-way. The new bridge will accommodate two travel lanes, a parking lane on the west side, and sidewalks on both sides. Additionally, the project will include a Shared Use Path to run parallel to the bus-way from Eastern Avenue Station to downtown Chelsea.
Upon completion of the project’s first phase, the MBTA will solicit bids for the construction of a new Chelsea Commuter Rail Station at the Mystic Mall area. Both the Commuter Rail station and the new Mystic Mall Silver Line Station will be easily accessed with an at-grade sidewalk crossing at Everett Avenue, allowing for easy transfers in either direction. In addition, a fourth Silver Line station will be constructed after new Commuter Rail station is built.
The Silver Line’s Downtown Chelsea Station will be located between Arlington Street and Washington Avenue.
Though everyone knows it needs to be done, local officials and public safety planners are bemoaning the disruptions that are likely to occur when the state begins a year-long bridge replacement project on Washington Avenue – effectively cutting the City in two.
City Manager Jay Ash said the state Department of Transportation (DOT) has begun to work closely with the City about the upcoming replacement project near City Hall and Central Fire, and will soon unveil official details of the closure plan.
“I had let our departments know so they could start thinking about it, and they are, but we have not received and processed enough information yet to determine the full impact and our plans to mitigate that impact,” said Ash this week. “It should be noted that pedestrian access across the bridge will be maintained throughout the duration of the construction. Yes, in the end, we’re grateful to get a fully reconstructed bridge that will ensure safety and convenient travel over it, and under it for the Commuter Rail and Silver Line. Unfortunately, though, to get there, there will be some short-term operational matters to be addressed.”
Though nothing is set in stone, it is believed that the roadway will need to be closed off for more than a year as construction begins. The project was announced late last year as part of the sweeping Silver Line/Commuter Rail/Pedestrian Walkway project touted by the City and Gov. Deval Patrick.
The bridge replacement will be one of the first items completed in that project.
Fire crews and Police have expressed some concern about response times given that they will not be able to use one of the major arteries for getting to and from the west side of the city.
Meanwhile, traffic will also be a major concern as detours will need to be configured carefully.
Washington Avenue has just come out of a major roadway and sidewalk reconstruction project that ended late last summer. It is uncertain when the bridge project will begin, but some believe it could start as soon as this summer.