New, sleek Government Center station a bright spot for troubled service – Metro US

New, sleek Government Center station a bright spot for troubled service

Standing in the newly renovated station swarmed by media, Gov. Charlie Baker held a walkie-talkie to his mouth, and over at headquarters, MBTA workers heard the announcement.

“Central Control, at this time Government Center station is now re-opened,” Baker said.

And so began the maiden voyage for the Green Line train departing from the platform, an upgrade two years and $82 million in the making.

Officials cut the ribbon on the centrally located T stop on Monday afternoon, opening it up again for passengers looking to board the Green and Blue lines or hoping to make a connection between the two.

The station is more than just a reopened waypoint — among the busiest in the city, at that. It’s now fully accessible for riders with mobility issues for the first time in its history, making it the last of 80 stops marked as needing accessibility improvements to get new wheelchair-friendly features like elevators.

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Standing under natural sunlight in the station’s new tall glass ceiling, state and city leaders at Monday’s ceremony called the opening a milestone — a bright spot for a system that’s come under criticism for its aging infrastructure.

“The MBTA is headed in the right direction,” proclaimed T General Manager Frank DePaola.

“This is certainly an upgrade from what I was used to,” said Baker, recalling his time riding the train in the old bunker-like stop.

“This building is welcoming,” said Mayor Marty Walsh. “It says, ‘Come on inside here.’”

Work on the station’s exterior is still underway and should be complete in the next four or five months, officials said.

While it’s seen by many as a sleek and eye-catching addition to the drab City Hall Plaza nearby, some riders noted the set-dressing of a clean new T stop wouldn’t distract from the T’s remaining issues.

“It looks amazing,” said 33-year-old David Senatillaka of Malden, who noted that before he arrived at the station to tour it, he’d spent part of the morning stuck on a disabled Orange Line train. He added, “I see it kind of juxtaposed. We’re having this new station with accessibility, but at the same time we’re making the system less accessible by increasing fares and cutting service.”

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For Lou Jones, a 70-year-old from East Boston, the re-opening of Government Center felt like a long time coming.

“For two years, this has been a pain in the a—,” Jones said. “It’s my central station.”

Alicia Piccirillo, 23, who also stopped by to take a look, said she was willing to cut the T some slack.

“I think they’re trying and that’s all they can do,” she said.

Weymouth’s Robert Grover, 34, said he took off work from his job in Norton to be there for the unveiling.

“I have a daughter now, so I wanted to see the type of station she’s going to grow up with,” said Grover, a self-proclaimed T enthusiast. “I think this is almost like a gift for the riders and a two-year wait is worth it.”

The Government Center renovation was part of a strategy to invest in the system’s most critical junctures, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said.

“The core of our system is really what needs our attention,” Pollack told reporters.

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But it’s not the last station that still needs accessibility upgrades, she said, nor is it the last part of the system needing investment.

On the horizon are projects built into a new $14.3 billion capital program that includes $150 million for accessibility upgrades.

Also on the T’s books is a state of good repair backlog worth $7 billion.

Still inaccessible are several commuter rail stops, 27 Green Line surface-level stops and five subway stops: Boylston, Bowdoin, Hynes, Wollaston and Symphony, according to MassDOT spokeswoman Jacquelyn Goddard. Ninety-three MBTA stations are now fully accessible, she said.

A process is underway to prioritize which stations will be next to see upgrades for disabled riders, Pollack said.

At the roll-out, Congressman Michael Capuano took his turn in the spotlight to reiterate his support for another Green Line project: the now-uncertain bid to extend service northwest of the city with seven new stations

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“This is just one more step on making the Green Line exactly what it should be, which is a full service green line to as many people as possible — including those who want to come to Government Center from Somerville, Cambridge and Medford,” he said.

It remains to be seen whether other stations in the T’s future will have as distinctive a design as Government Center’s. Discussions about the proposed Green Line extension — which has been plagued by a ballooning budget — have included the possibility of making new stations more austere and less flashy to cut costs.

Speaking with reporters, Pollack said “modernization” plays an important role in investment in the system — making up just over 20 percent of the T’s capital plan, compared to about 60 percent on the state of good repair backlog.

In keeping with that strategy, the overhaul at Government Center makes financial sense, she said.

“If you’re going to bother to touch an asset that’s as complicated as Government Center station is, you might as well get all the work done at once. It’s actually more cost-effective in the long-run.”