Red Line Construction Disrupts Cambridge, Boston Residents

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  • The MBTA posted signs alerting of service changes in affected stations, including Boston’s Park Street Station. The Red Line service is suspended on weekends as a result of construction on Longfellow Bridge. Photo Credit: Paige Smith/BU News Service
  • The Longfellow Bridge’s “salt and pepper” towers were carved in their current places and officially unveiled in 1908. The bridge, which connects the cities of Boston and Cambridge, has been undergoing structural repairs since 2013, but weekend service of the Red Line is suspended through mid-December to work on the tracks that travel over the bridge. Photo Credit: Paige Smith/BU News Service
  • MassDOT engineer Matthew Caputo on the Longfellow Bridge on a recent afternoon. Photo Credit: Paige Smith/BU News Service
A passenger stands on Park Street’s Red Line platform for outbound service from Boston to Cambridge. This line is affected by the suspension of weekend service between Kendall/MIT stations and Park Street through mid-December. Photo Credit: Paige Smith/BU News Service

By Christy Osler and Paige Smith, Boston University News Service

LONGFELLOW BRIDGE — For the past month, those trying to go back and forth between Boston and Cambridge on the subway on weekends has gotten an extra bus ride for their $2.25. And they’ve lost at least 15 minutes in the bargain.

On a recent afternoon, commuters and others expressed both frustration and understanding for the slowed crossing of the iconic “salt and pepper bridge” some have known since the days their parents read them Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for Ducklings,” published in 1941.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Red Line says that the service disruptions will end on Dec. 17, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT). During this time, shuttle buses replace normal trains running from Park Street to Kendall/MIT stations.

While taking a break from construction on a recent day, MassDOT engineer Matthew Caputo explained that the project started in 2013, during which both the North and South sides of the bridge have received new steel. The bridge was initially flagged in 2009 as structurally deficient, calling for necessary repairs.

“These last four weekends on the books, we’re going to be demoing out the existing Red Line tracks,” Caputo said. “So, in the effort to impact the public least of all, we’re going to demo during the weekends.”

The demolition entails removing the old ties and their corresponding ballast and then placing new steel tracks in place, while still allowing trains to run during the week, according to Caputo.

Miles Taylor, founder of the blog “Miles on the MBTA,” and a Cambridge Rindge and Latin School student, said he believes that the disruptions, though frustrating for some, are necessary.

“In the short-term, it’s going to be a big problem on weekends, but in the end it will be worth it,” he said during a phone interview.

He also praised the work of the MBTA in terms of making passengers aware of the service changes.

“What the T has done is really good,” Taylor said. “They’ve really boosted their signage for the shuttle with a really good, consistent look of all of the alert notifications and signage, and they’ve made it really clear why the shuttle is happening and what people can do, and how it’s all working out.”

Although not all personally impacted by the weekend Red Line closures, several Boston and Cambridge residents have mixed feelings toward the MBTA and the ongoing construction.

While exiting the T, Belmont resident Joanne Coakley begrudgingly admitted that the MBTA effectively publicized the changes.

“As we know, the T is a mess and dysfunctional on most days, but I think in this case they publicized well beforehand and said which weekends, the Head of the Charles and Thanksgiving, and that people would be affected,” she said. “So, I think they’ve done the best and I think it’s probably something they had to do. I hate to give them credit.”

Andy Jeske, a Beacon Hill resident who commutes to Kendall Square, said he is tolerating the construction because of its minimal effect on his travel. His hope, he said, is that the construction will benefit the greater good of future travelers.

“Luckily, I just live [in Boston] and work in Kendall, so any disruption just means that my commute is going to be maybe three or four minutes longer than it usually would be,” he said. “But overall, I would say not a huge disruption, but I’m also probably not the person who would be most affected by this since my endpoint is MGH or Kendall.”

Raymond Pawklicki, a Back Bay resident and frequent MBTA rider, commented that the timing of construction with upcoming holiday season is less than ideal.

“That’s not a good time to be closing, and people are going to be doing holiday shopping on the weekends, bouncing back and forth,” Pawlicki said at the Charles/MGH Red Line Station, one of the stations affected by the construction. “It’s probably not the smartest time to do this.”

He mentioned that it is especially challenging for individuals trying to cross the Charles River.

“A lot of people live [in Boston] and work in Cambridge, and it’s an inconvenience and probably could have avoided it, but it’s not horrible either,” Pawlicki said.

On her way home from work at Massachusetts General Hospital, Pamela Ribeiro said she recently moved to Cambridge from Allston. Over the summer she experienced transportation delays on the Green Line. Now, she is once again experiencing transportation issues on another major MBTA line.

“I know it’s only going on on the weekends, so that’s pretty helpful, but living off of the [Green Line B branch], which had construction over the summer for three weeks, and now moving to the Red Line, I am affected again by construction going on for three months,” Ribeiro said. “Not the best move MBTA.”

To check service delays and to follow construction updates, follow both the MBTA and MassDOT on Twitter.