By SCOTT JACKSON
The MBTA will provide shuttle bus service to Quincy Center as well as North Quincy while the station in Wollaston is closed, and passengers will be able to board the commuter rail at Quincy Center during rush hour at a discounted price throughout the 20-month period.
The date for the station closure has also been pushed back a week to Monday, Jan. 8, to avoid any conflict with New Year’s Day – the station had been set to close Jan. 2.
State transportation officials joined city and state elected leaders to make the announcement Thursday outside the station, where initial construction work has already begun.
The T had originally announced only shuttle service between Wollaston and North Quincy the former station closed for renovations. Luis Ramirez, the MBTA’s general manager, said the decision to expand the shuttle service to Quincy Center as well was made to help ensure the North Quincy platform does not become too crowded.
“With our ongoing issues of platform crowding at North Quincy, we want to make sure we were minimizing the inconvenience to our customers that best we can,” Ramirez said. “To that end, we wanted to divert our Wollaston customers to both stations to alleviate any additional crowding.”
Riders utilizing the shuttle service should plan on adding 15 to 20 minutes to their commute, he added.
In an additional step to preventing crowding at North Quincy, Ramirez said customers at Quincy Center can take the commuter rail – either inbound trains to Boston or outbound trains headed south – during rush hour for the same fare as a Red Line ride provided they show a valid CharlieCard or CharlieTicket while boarding.
Stephanie Pollack, the state’s transportation secretary, said the decision to postpone the closure one week was based on feedback from residents who were wary of shutting down the station so close to New Year’s Day and Christmas.
“We heard loud and clear that starting right after the holiday week was a bad idea in terms of making sure that people would be aware, in terms of our ability to get the word out the weeks before the closure, and in terms of our ability to test the shuttle routes in real traffic conditions,” Pollack said.
The T will close the station for 20 months to rebuild the platform on site from the tracks up. The closure is meant to bring the station, which first opened in 1971, into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Wollaston station is currently the only station not in compliance with the ADA.
The closure has been controversial in Quincy, where residents at several community meetings have voiced their displeasure with the plan. Pollack defended the decision to close the station entirely during renovations, because it will allow the T to complete the project in less time. The project could take five years or more to complete had the station remained open during renovations, she said.
“It will be less disruptive to our passengers to have the shorter closure than the longer, dragged-out construction project that would be required if we tried to run the trains while we rebuilt the station,” Pollack said.
Trains will continue to pass through the Wollaston station while it is closed but won’t stop there. On select nights and weekends, however, the entire Braintree branch of the Red Line will be closed south of North Quincy while the T rebuilds the Wollaston station and begins demolition of the Quincy Center station’s garage starting in early 2018. Shuttle service will run between Braintree and North Quincy during those periods.
Parking at Wollaston station will be reduced from 538 spaces to 432 during the project.
The station will re-open in the summer of 2019, though construction work will remain after that point. Sen. John Keenan said commuters would have not only a new station, but also new Red Line cars and new signals that will allow for shorter headways between trains.
“When all is said and done, when we get through what we have to get through over the next 20 months, we’re going to have a state-of-the-art Wollaston MBTA station,” Keenan said. “Through it will be not the trains that were running 40 years ago when I was selling newspapers at the bottom of the stairwell here, but a brand new fleet of Red Line trains and those Red Line trains will be guided by a modern, updated signalization program.
“All of that together will increase ridership, increase reliability, and give the commuters of this community and commuters all along the Red Line a first-class, reliable, efficient public transportation system.”
Mayor Thomas Koch credited Gov. Charlie Baker for investing in the Red Line. The Red Line will receive a total of $911 million worth of upgrades over the next several years including the new cars and signals, the Wollaston station renovation, demolition of the Quincy Center garage and work at the Quincy Adams and Braintree stations.
“The Red Line had been ignored for a long, long time,” Koch said. “I used to get into heated discussions with some of my colleagues – mayors around Metropolitan Boston – when they were talking expansion and I was saying ‘we shouldn’t expand anything until we get what we have fixed.’ I appreciate Governor Baker’s commitment and the Legislature’s support – we’re looking at a billion dollars worth of improvements to the Red Line.
“Within a couple years we’re going to have essentially a brand-new Red Line for the residents of the city and the people who use this service.”
A $205 million mixed-use project is also set to begin next year at the North Quincy station’s parking lot. A garage with space for 852 vehicles – equivalent to the number of parking spaces currently on site – will be built in the project’s first phase, followed by 610 apartments and 50,000 square feet of retail space that will envelope the new garage in the second phase.
Keenan said city and state officials are still working on plans to mitigate the impact of the North Quincy project.
“The MBTA continues and the Department of Transportation and the city continue to look at how to best manage that parking situation. There are many options under construction that are all being tested and considered,” Keenan said.
“We expect and we’re going to continue our work to make sure those parking impacts at North Quincy are mitigated.”
To help mitigate the impact, several local elected officials had suggested the T run shuttle bus service directly between Wollaston and JFK/UMass. Keenan said the T had looked into the idea but ruled it out because of traffic on the Neponset Bridge.
“As part of the mitigation package there will be a detail officer assigned to Neponset Circle to help with traffic, but even with that there are substantial delays in getting over the Neponset Bridge,” he said.