GLOUCESTER – The chief operating officer of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority began his presentation at Monday's first of three public forms on the agency's shutdown mitigation plan with a confession.
"To be perfectly honest with you," COO Jeffrey Gonneville told about 120 people gathered in Kyrouz Auditorium at Gloucester City Hall, "there are times when we get it wrong."
One of those times, he admitted, came this spring, when the MBTA announced plans for two major work that will force temporary commuter rail service shutdowns beginning in July without presenting riders with any plans to run buses or offer any alternatives, especially north of Salem.
But while Gonneville and other MBA officials mapped out plans and schedules for bus services designed to carry riders on weekends from July 8 to Sept. 30, or to and from stops north of Salem to deal with a complete shutdown and of the Beverly-Salem ail bridge for replacement between July 17 and Aug. 13, more than 30 speakers made it clear they have significant problems with the T's so-called supplemental busing plans.
Gregg Zoske, a Gloucester resident who works in Lynn and uses commuter rail exclusively to get to hand from her job, told Gonneville and other MBTA and state Department of Transportation officials the planned schedules, which include bus service north of Salem on weekdays and for the full routes to and from Boston's North Station on Saturdays and Sundays starting next month, would – at first glance – add at least two hours to her weekend round-trip commutes. That's partly because the alternative bus service will not stop at Lynn, forcing her to take city buses to Salem and then catching an MBTA bus from there home.
"I find this unacceptable," she said, to the nods of many in the audience.
The shuttle bus plans for both weekday and weekend service would also leave out any bus service stops at West Gloucester station, along with stations down the line in Beverly Farms and Montserrat.
The plans call for the MBTA to run the same numbers of trips headed into or out of North Station as its current schedules, with 15 inbound and outbound trips on weekdays and nine inbound routes with 17 outbound trips bound for Cape Ann's Gloucester, Manchester and Rockport stations on Saturdays and Sundays. The full weekend rail shutdowns are to allow the MBTA to carry out infrastructure installation for a federally-mandated Positive Train Control (PCT) safety project, while the weekday shutdowns are spurred by the Beverly bridge replacement.
The MBTA will offer free parking at all of its lots north of Salem during the closures, and riders will be charged based on trips from Zone 3 – Salem to Boston – only during the months of July and August closure periods. Riders from Cape Ann and other northern points will also be able to ride on Zone 3 passes to and from North Station.
But Gonneville admitted the plans, as a whole, are "not ideal – we know that."
He said the omission of several stops – the weekend schedules call for the buses to stop at just seven stations usually served by commuter rail on the Rockport and Newburyport lines, while skipping 11 – was a necessity to provided any sense of a reasonable timetable.
"The logistics of getting buses in and out of some of these stations can be difficult," he said, "and if each of these buses stopped at every one of (the usual commuter rail) stops, the time for these trips would be unbelievable."
The timing of commutes under the temporary schedules – with multiple buses needed on each scheduled route, since each bus will likely be able to ferry just 40-45 passengers – already has commuters nervous at best. Some were critical of the process, by which the MBTA and DOT skipped community forums held last month, then came forward now with plans with little or no advance public input.
"This whole process has been incredibly arrogant," said Gloucester resident Amanda Nash. "You all seem like very nice people," she told Gonneville and his MBTA colleagues, "but you need to consider the needs of your clients."
Beyond riders, that means Cape Ann tourism business owners whom, she said face significant losses without any weekend visitors forced to take perhaps two-hour bus trips instead of one-hour rail trips to Cape Ann this summer.
"You can't do that to a town," she said, echoing sentiments expressed by several other speakers, including Gloucester, Rockport and Manchester officials and Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce CEO Ken Riehl.
Riehl, state Sen. Bruce Tarr and Rockport selectman Don Campbell all vowed to press and formally ask the MBTA to push back its Rockport/Newburyport line construction and rail closures to at least beginning in September. Other official speakers included state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, who suggested that lawmakers work with the Department of Transportation on an alternative ferry service, and Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken.
Beth Larkin, the MBTA's general manager of capital development, said the time frame is locked in by two federally-based PCT deadlines, one to have the project completed by December 2018, but another to have much of the infrastructure in place so the MBTA can seek an extension for the overall completion.
To that, Tarr said he would urge the Legislature to push for a waiver for the first deadline as well, freeing up more time top push the work here back beyond the summer tourism season.
"I know there's no good time for a project like this," Campbell told Gonnevile, "but you've picked the absolute worst time."
Remaining MBTA forums
Tuesday, June 6, at 6 p.m. at Beverly Senior Center, 90 Colon St.;
Thursday, June 8, at 6:30 p.m. in Newburyport City Hall Auditorium, 60 Pleasant St.
Key points to MBTA mitigation plans
– All commuter rail service will be suspended on weekends from July 8 through Sept. 30, with buses carrying riders to and from Rockport and Newburyport and Boston's North Station.
– Rail service will be suspended north of Salem on weekdays as well from July 17 through Aug. 13, with buses used to carry riders to stops north of Salem.
– Not all stops will be included under bus services; there will be no bus stops at West Gloucester station, Beverly Farms, Montserrat, Prides Crossing, North Beverly, Hamilton/Wenham or Rowley.
– The MBTA will offer free parking at all of its lots north of Salem throughout the shutdowns.
– All passengers will be charged fares based on travel from Zone 3 – Salem to and from Boston. Riders can also purchase and use Zone 3 passes throughout July and August.
Staff Writer Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.