Big business and contracts help push work on the Orange Line forward

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MBTA construction crews replace rails on Orange Line tracks near Ruggles Station in Boston in September 2022. Photo MBTA.

With the help of some major contractors, workers completed nearly 60% of scheduled maintenance and construction work about 18 days after the start of the 30-day Orange Line shutdown, MBTA officials said on Tuesday as that Beacon Hill continues to sort out the aftermath of a pungent federal security. report.

After touring the Orange Line stop near Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown with his senior transportation aides, Gov. Charlie Baker said the unprecedented project had gone “about as planned.” He added that he is “optimistic” that passenger service will resume on September 19, when the end-to-end shutdown is expected to be lifted.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done between now and September 19, but I believe progress to date is pretty much in line with expectations,” Baker said.

MBTA chief executive Steve Poftak said “just under 60%” of scheduled maintenance work was completed on Tuesday, including 47% of rail replacements, 65% of track replacements, 91% of ” special track works” and 55% of Oak Grove. and Malden signal upgrades.

The T has 58 new CRRC-made Orange Line cars ready for use, which would make these vehicles the “predominant” model if service resumed today, Poftak said.

“We remain cautiously confident that all of this work will get done and that it will be done on time,” Poftak said.

As of Tuesday, the T is able to lift two speed restrictions on sections of the Orange Line after track work in Jackson Square, leaving four more to be addressed, Poftak said.

MBTA officials launched the stop amid a federal investigation that reported safety issues across the system, including a backlog of deferred maintenance that forced the T to institute speed restrictions on the Orange Line .

$36 million for Orange Line shutdown contractors

In recent weeks, agency officials have been tight-lipped about the cost of the work, stating at first only that MBTA would spend up to $37 million on shuttles to replace trains and forgo about $3 million. revenue dollars.

After the news service last week submitted a public records request requesting contracts awarded for maintenance, repairs and other work related to the shutdown, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said Tuesday that the T would use “a combination of MBTA teams and existing third-party contractors.”

“The main contractors involved in the track and signal upgrades are Barletta, Middlesex Corporation and Alstom,” Pesaturo said.

Pesaturo described three major contracts related to the Orange Line shutdown, together totaling around $36.4 million and each involving multiple contractors.

Two contracts have been scheduled in MBTA’s five-year capital investment plan: one awarded to Barletta Heavy Division for Wellington Yard track and signal upgrades with construction estimated at nearly $9.5 million dollars, and another also awarded to Barletta for the Oak Grove and Malden signal upgrades with a prize of approximately $13.9 million.

The third contract listed by Pesaturo is with The Middlesex Corp. for emergency lane and infrastructure repairs, intended for areas with speed restrictions highlighted by federal investigators. The MBTA has estimated the total construction value of this contract to be approximately $13 million.

This contract was not scheduled in the 2023-2027 investment plan. Pesaturo said it was “competitively purchased” but did not immediately provide details on when MBTA selected a bid or awarded the contract.

The MBTA also did not specify on Tuesday the division of labor and costs between internal teams and third-party contractors.

“There are 150 to 175 people working through the system at any given time. There is construction activity 24/7. Actual staffing, shifts and work schedules depend on individual projects, locations and the nature of the work,” Pesaturo wrote in a statement to the News Service. “The MBTA and our subcontractors have access to enough materials to complete the scope of work scheduled for each project.”

Powerful Representative Says Legislature and Baker Share Blame

The Federal Transit Administration’s final report released last week highlighted a dizzying mix of staffing shortages, communication breakdowns and a focus on major capital projects at the expense of day-to-day service and maintenance. .

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Aaron Michlewitz, one of Beacon Hill’s most powerful Democrats, agreed over the weekend that the legislature was partly to blame for the problems festering in the T while pinning the foundation of the crisis on “culture” and workforce trends.

“I think everyone in state government owns some of it. You can’t get away from it from any point in state government, so obviously the legislature is involved in this,” Michlewitz said in an interview with WCVB’s “On the Record” that aired Sunday. “But I will say that every time the administration has asked us for funding, we have provided practically the full amount that they have asked for… So yes, we still have work to do, but it is not only a question of financing. It’s obviously something more of a culture discussion, a workforce discussion, and a lot of the discussion falls at the feet of the administration.

In the past few months alone, lawmakers have approved making approximately $666 million in one-time dollars available to the MBTA to pursue some of the immediate actions required by the FTA, and Governor Charlie Baker is asking for $200 million. supplements in a supplementary budget bill.

Faced with recurring deficits in the T’s operating budget — which are expected to erupt again next year, then worsen in subsequent years — the two branches have remained virtually silent since the Senate in 2020 spiked a set of tax hikes. taxes and fees approved by the House. to finance investments in transport.

New hearing to focus on state overseer of T

Michlewitz said the FTA’s findings were “disappointing” but not “shocking or surprising”. The legislature’s transportation committee convened a monitoring hearing on the MBTA in July, more than a month after federal investigators released preliminary findings, and Michlewitz said hearings would continue “through the fall “.

The Legislative Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy also announced on Friday that it would hold a monitoring hearing on the Utilities Department, which the federal investigation found failed to fulfill its role as a regulator. state agency responsible for overseeing security at the MBTA.

Committee chairs Senator Mike Barrett and Representative Jeff Roy said they had invited DPU Chairman Matt Nelson to testify at the hearing “scheduled for early October.” They wondered if “the DPU is motivated enough, independent enough, big enough, focused enough and expert enough” to handle the surveillance of T.

Baker said on Tuesday that the DPU had “already started hiring people and expanding its footprint.”

“Obviously they have work to do,” he added.

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