MBTA gets set to lay tracks

On March 20, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

GLX construction starts this month

Residents can expect traffic disruptions as the rail bridge over Medford Street is rebuilt to add tracks for the coming Green Line Extension. ~Photo courtesy of the MBTA

Residents can expect traffic disruptions as the rail bridge over Medford Street is rebuilt to add tracks for the coming Green Line Extension. ~Photo courtesy of the MBTA

By Elizabeth Sheeran

After years of discussion and planning, the Green Line Extension is finally moving from the conference room to the job site. Contractor Barletta Heavy Division will start work this month on the first phase of the long-awaited project, which will extend the MBTA light rail through Somerville to Medford, adding six new Green Line stations.

An important first step in the $1.3 billion mass transit project, Phase One takes care of two bridges and a building that stand in the way of plans to lay Green Line tracks alongside the existing commuter rail lines to Fitchburg and Lowell.

The MBTA’s commuter rail right-of-way is wide enough to fit the extra tracks in all but two places, where the railway crosses the road on elevated bridges. Barletta will rebuild and widen the rail bridges over Medford Street in Somerville, near the Somerville Avenue Target store, and over Harvard Street in Medford, near Saint Clement School. Phase One also includes demolishing a building on the site of the new Lechmere Station in Cambridge.

Widening the Medford Street bridge will take most of 2013 and into early next year. Most of the time, the work can move along by closing only one lane of Medford Street at a time. But Barletta Project Manager Seta Kalaijian said the contractor will need to block the street completely for two to four weekends in late summer or early fall. She said the road closures won’t be on back-to-back weekends, and they’ll work around planned street festivals.

Rebuilding the Harvard Street bridge will take longer and have more of an impact on the neighborhood. It involves constructing over 800 feet of retaining wall, erecting noise barriers, and raising both the bridge and the road underneath it by over a foot. Barletta will also widen and re-route a drainage pipe from private backyards to nearby Winchester Street, to alleviate chronic flooding problems under the bridge during all but the worst storms.

The work is planned to last until late-2014 and will require rolling lane closures on both Harvard and Winchester Streets. On at least a half-dozen weekends starting this September and continuing next spring, Barletta will have to completely close down a stretch of Harvard Street, which is a common pass-through route for traffic going from Interstate 93 to Powderhouse Circle and Davis Square.

Kalaijian said Barletta is working closely with the cities of Somerville, Medford and Cambridge to manage traffic disruptions, is directly in touch with resident abutters, and has an active plan to contain rodent problems. It will be posting two-week “look-ahead” work and road closure schedules online at www.greenlineextension.org. And residents can call the Emergency Construction Hotline any time at 1-855-GLX-INFO.

Most residents who attended a March 14 public meeting in Somerville saw little of concern in the plans for Phase One. “The only thing that’s going to happen is that there’s going to be a lot of traffic and people aren’t going to be happy about that. But we have that now,” said Ellin Reisner of the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership (STEP), a local transit advocacy group.

Meeting attendees were just as interested in what’s ahead with Phase Two of the Green Line Extension project, which includes extending the Green Line from Lechmere Station as far as a new station at Washington Street on the main line, and to Union Square on a spur line. Phase Two construction is set to begin in mid-2014 and run through 2016, so the first passengers should ride into Union Square sometime in mid-2017.

Phase Three entails building a new maintenance facility in the Inner Belt area, to house all the extra cars that will be needed to service the extended line, and the final four stations will go online in Phase Four. MBTA planners said there’s a lot that can happen over the next six years with such a complicated project, but right now they project a 50 percent probability that the entire line will be operational by sometime in 2019.

That’s still a long way out. But for supporters who have been waiting years for more public transit in Somerville, the Phase One start is a sign that it’s finally becoming a reality.

“We had the first public meeting in Somerville the night the Red Sox won the World Series against Saint Louis and broke the curse,” said Reisner, who noted that STEP is now over a decade old. “Now they’ve got a contractor and they’re starting construction. It’s as real as it’s been.”



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