Second 17-month T disruption looms for Lechmere; public market idea still alive

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A rendering imagines the Lechmere T stop after it is rebuilt in the NorthPoint neighborhood. (Image: MBTA)

A rendering imagines the Lechmere T stop after it is rebuilt in the NorthPoint neighborhood. (Images: MBTA)

With demolition of the Lechmere T station first and a relocated replacement coming second, East Cambridge is due for at least its third long-term transportation disruption in a decade, officials and neighborhood representatives warned Monday.

A policy order by Tim Toomey asked fellow city councillors to oppose the closing of Lechmere before its replacement was in place, and for the city manager to examine the issue with the state Department of Transportation and Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.

The station was closed from April to November 2011 for construction at the line’s Science Park station and before that from June 2004 to November 2005 for track replacement and new signal systems – putting the station out of service for roughly 20 percent of a decade. Shuttle buses replaced T service during the disruptions.

Who’s affected

The MBTA’s current schedule for its Green Line Extension project has a new Lechmere station in service sometime in 2017.

The MBTA’s current schedule for its Green Line Extension project has a new Lechmere station in service sometime in 2017.

MBTA project manager Jeffrey A. Sarin confirmed at a Feb. 4 meeting that the current Lechmere station would close February 2016 and the relocated station would open mid-2017, resident Alan Greene said, making a gap of up to 17 months that would roughly match the disruption ending in 2005. A message was left Wednesday with Sarin. Instead, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo responded to say the Lechmere closing date was “still to be determined.”

A meeting is planned for June to discuss Lechmere scheduling and construction, Pesaturo said.

“Each time it has affected the areas adjacent to it,” Greene said of Lechmere closings. “A future closure will affect East Cambridge, the Galleria shopping mall and the NorthPoint development for an undetermined amount of time.”

“Right now I walk by the NorthPoint area and I notice that at least four projects are under construction. All of them are being constructed with the assumption the green line extension will be in place,” Greene said. “I urge no more than a three-month delay between the new Lechmere being constructed and the old one having closed.”

Councillors were reminded by another East Cambridge resident, Heather Hoffman, that “Cambridge depends on this station to support millions and millions of square feet of high-paying, taxable commercial property that you keep building because you say there’s public transit. You should stand up for the people who use that public transit.”

Green Line Extension

The moving of the Lechmere station east into NorthPoint, across Monsignor O’Brien Highway, is just part of an overall Green Line Extension project planned to add six T stations in Somerville and Medford through 2019. The green line ends at Lechmere, which was recorded in 2010 as being used by 6,645 people each weekday, but when the project is done it will be just one of seven stations estimated serving 49,000 people each year by 2030.

The extension project was estimated last spring at costing $1.3 billion – up from estimates of between $340 million and $438 million eight years ago – and has faced a series of funding problems and delays.

While the state is working to complete an application to the Federal Transit Administration to pay for about half of the total project, officials say state money has been approved for the first three stations – Lechmere in Cambridge and Union Square and Washington Street in Somerville – along with the associated track, structures and infrastructure needed to get them working.

The next Lechmere Square

Even a tentative closing date for the current Lechmere station renews questions about what will become of its 72,000 square feet afterward. Development rights are held by HYM Investments – also one the partners developing the 44-acre NorthPoint neighborhood.

A vision for the space released in October 2009 by the East Cambridge Planning Team’s Lechmere Square Working Group included a 12-story hotel; a commercial building of up to four stories, with retail or restaurant space at ground level; and between those a plaza and year-round, 30-stall public market under a refurbished T garage roof. The city’s Community Development Department released a feasibility study in August 2010 that called it “an idea worthy of continued support” for an estimated daytime population of 100,362 people.

Tom Palmer, a publicist working with HYM, said the company saw the Lechmere space as being primarily residential, although a public market could be incorporated as it has been at Haymarket, the so-called Parcel 9 in Boston.

“The market is still a possibility,” he said Tuesday.

This post was updated Feb. 27, 2014, with Joe Pesaturo’s comment.

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