MBTA officials offered South End residents a look at Silver Line Phase III, the controversial $1.2 billion dollar plan to connect the two existing portions of the existing Bus Rapid Transit line, at a community meeting July 23. The project would bring together the Silver Line Phase I, which currently provides service down the Washington Street corridor from Downtown Crossing to Dudley Square, and Silver Line Phase II, which reaches the waterfront and airport from South Station.
The connecting project would involve rerouting existing Silver Line traffic and the construction of a mile-long underground tunnel between Charles Street South in Bay Village to Boylston Station at Tremont and Boylston streets downtown. Pending approval of federal funding, construction is currently scheduled to begin construction in 2011 and will be in operation by 2016.
Project plans were shared with representatives from the Washington Gateway Main Street and several South End neighborhood associations last month. Overall, the South End neighborhood should see little impact from the project, said MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo; previous plans that would have put the tunnel entrance on Columbus Avenue were vociferously and strenuously opposed by the neighborhood.
"Not much will be different from today’s service in the South End," said Pesaturo. "Most changes are in the Bay Village and Chinatown areas."
Project plans provided by the MBTA at the July presentation do show some alterations to traffic flow on South End streets as a result of the new Silver Line connection. Silver Line buses traveling on Washington Street toward Chinatown/Downtown Crossing would take a left into a newly dedicated bus lane on Herald Street, a one-way street flowing in the opposite direction. After driving against the flow of other traffic, the Silver Line would bear right on to Tremont Street and enter a tunnel portal at Charles Street South by Bay Village.
The tunnel would travel to Boylston Station for connection to the Green Line, to Chinatown Station for connection to the Orange Line, and onto South Station, for connection to the Red Line. The buses would then continue on to Logan Airport.
In returning to the South End, buses would exit the Charles Street South tunnel and turn left on to one-way Marginal Street, once more against the flow of other traffic. The route would return to Washington Street, and then on to its final destination at Dudley Square Station.
Though the Washington Gateway Main Street as an organization has not taken a formal position on the project, executive director Linda Rubin Royer said she believed the plans seemed "very well received" by the nearly 20 Gateway and neighborhood association representatives in attendance at the July meeting.
Among the attendees was Andrew Parthum, a South End resident and vice-president of the Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association. Parthum said he knew few details of the project prior to attending, and remains interested in learning more about it. But he did ask MBTA officials about the choice to make room for the buses by eliminating a lane of commuter traffic on the one-way streets, which he described as "already very busy during rush hour."
According to Parthum, MBTA officials said they anticipated "minimal impact" from the decision.
Another South End resident, who asked not to be named, questioned the wisdom of installing an expensive new tunnel rather than simply reroute existing Silver Line infrastructure to connect the Washington Street and Waterfront/Airport lines.
"We have looked at this [idea]," said Pesaturo. "The route that you would have to run to do this is very circuitous and goes into roads that are heavily congested, particularly at rush hour: Kneeland Street, Atlantic Ave." Pesaturo said the MBTA used a 60-foot bus to conduct trial runs of alternative routing before arriving at its current decision.
The MBTA plans to complete an environmental review of the project area by the end of the summer and finish preliminary engineering by the end of the year. In 2010, the MBTA will seek 60 percent funding for the project from the New Starts program of the Federal Transit Administration; the MBTA will fund the remaining 40 percent.