Orange Line Shutdown Impacts Will ‘Get Worse' After Labor Day, Expert Says

Jim Aloisi, who worked with the Dukakis and Patrick administrations on transportation projects including the Big Dig, said Massachusetts transit got to this point thanks to a long history of underfunding one of the oldest systems in the country

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The "transit emergency" in Boston, caused by the 30-day shutdown of the Orange Line, will likely get even worse after Labor Day, according to one local expert.

Since the MBTA released its initial plans for the coming Orange Line shutdown, Massachusetts state leaders have been working to ensure commuters are prepared for major changes, even going so far as to say drivers should avoid downtown Boston entirely if they can. During a news conference Monday, state officials referred to the project and its impact as the "Orange Line Super Surge," detailing how it will be felt by almost all commuters in this region and urging people to change their commute if they can.

"My advice to people is not to avoid coming to the city. I think, by the way, that's bad advice -- to tell people not to come to Boston is a bad idea. People need to come to Boston," said Jim Aloisi, a consultant and former head of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

The monthlong service suspension on the Orange Line of the MBTA will begin Friday, but not all regular riders know how they'll get around.

Aloisi, who served as transportation secretary under Gov. Deval Patrick, echoed officials' calls for Orange Line riders to take the commuter rail if possible. It will be free to anyone who shows a CharlieCard or CharlieTicket at stops in zones 1, 1A and 2.

And if you think things are bad during Monday's commute, just wait. Things will likely get worse before they get better.

After Labor Day, the congestion could add "a considerable amount of time -- might add 20 more minutes," to the average drive, according to Aloisi, who teaches urban planning and policy at MIT and sits on the Transit Matters advocacy group.

"There are definitely going to be headaches and disruptions over the next 30 days. And they probably will get worse after Labor Day," he said, noting that the last weeks of August are "prime time for final summer vacations." The commute after Labor Day is "a different story altogether."

The MBTA's shutdown of the Orange Line begins Friday.

Orange Line trains will stop running at 9 p.m. Friday and remain out of service through the end of the day Sept. 18, an unprecedented end-to-end shutdown incited by a federal investigation that flagged delayed maintenance at the T as a significant safety issue. A chunk of the Green Line from Government Center to Union Square will also go dark starting Monday, Aug. 22 through Sept. 18.

The state is urging the around 100,000 people who take the MBTA Orange Line every day post-pandemic to find an alternative commuting method other than driving. Still, Boston's streets will have to handle the added influx of shuttle buses that will be used to replace some of the train service.

Aloisi, who worked with the Dukakis Administration on a variety of projects, including the Big Dig, said the reason Massachusetts transit got to this point traces back to a long history of underfunding one of the oldest systems in the country.

By the end of the week, the MBTA will suspend service on one of its major arteries. The Orange Line closing Friday night for one month will affect everyone from daily riders, to people who live near stops and students heading to class. A lot of people have unanswered questions about how the shutdown will work. Here's more on the projected impact.

"We got here because of decades and decades of underinvestment in the T -- pure and simple. I know people don't like to hear that, but it's the truth. And so you have to say it," Aloisi said. "And it's not a partisan political issue. This has happened under Democratic governors. And it happens under Republican governors. There's nothing partisan about it."

Combined with the coronavirus pandemic, which had a major influence on reducing ridership and revenue, the T now finds itself in a position where "it's having to do these kinds of drastic steps," Aloisi said.

The length of this shutdown is unprecedented, according to Aloisi, who couldn't think of any other similar situation to compare it to.

The state is urging the around 100,000 people who take the MBTA Orange Line every day post-pandemic, to find an alternative commuting method other than driving.

"I'm not aware of any two-line 30-day shutdown in the country. So I think we're pioneers, unfortunately, in doing this," he said.

Aloisi said it will be important to hold government officials accountable, noting that Gov. Charlie Baker promised that at the end of the 30-day period there will a significant increase in the number of new Orange Line trains.

"We do need to hold the governor and the T accountable for what they said was going to be the outcome and what is the outcome. In other words, we need to see tangible, measurable benefits at the end of the 30-day period," he said. "We're all in this together, because there won't be a single person in Metro Boston who won't be affected by this over the next 30 days."

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