Brighter, more accessible Government Center T stop opens

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BOSTON – Opening its doors for the first time to the public Monday afternoon, the rebuilt Government Center subway station allows access by people in wheelchairs and lets in more natural light, officials pointed out.

The reopening ends a two-year hiatus for the stop on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Blue and Green lines, in which workers demolished the bunker-like brick structure at the entrance and built a larger new glass enclosure and added elevators to the platforms.

Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh rode the first Green Line trolley out of the reopened station, taking it one stop to Park Street with a gaggle of press and officials.

The project, estimated to cost $82 million, was done on time and under budget, the governor said.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the rebuilt Government Center completes accessibility improvements to 80 MBTA stations.

“That does not mean that we have made the entire system accessible to everyone who wants and needs to use it. It’s the end of one part of that effort. It is also the beginning of the next part of that effort,” she said. Work remains to be done particularly along the Green Line and commuter rail.

According to the state transportation department, five subway stations are currently inaccessible – at the Boylston, Bowdoin, Hynes, Wollaston and Symphony stops – while 27 Green Line surface-level trolley stops are inaccessible.

Pollack told reporters the MBTA’s draft five-year, $14.3 billion construction plan includes $150 million for designing and building accessibility upgrades, including at Wollaston, the last Red Line station that is not fully accessible.

“This should have been done 35 years ago,” said Walsh, who recalled watching the construction outside City Hall, which started in March 2014 soon after he took office.

With a musician and sound system playing pop hits such as “Ridin’ Dirty,” “Shipping Up to Boston” and “Fanfare for the Common Man,” lawmakers, union officials and people in wheelchairs gathered in the airy head house for speeches, a ribbon-cutting and the unveiling of a plaque.

“Central Control, at this time Government Center Station is now re-opened,” Baker radioed MBTA dispatch before hopping aboard a trolley with reporters in tow.

The first riders in wheelchairs to pass through the Government Center fare gates Monday were Laura Brelsford, Joanne Daniels-Finegold, Jim White and Michael Muehe, according to the T.

White, who is the chairman of the Access Advisory Committee to the MBTA, said the T had settled a lawsuit with the Boston Center for Independent Living, requiring the transit agency to make accessibility improvements to the 80 key stations.

Rob Sampson, manager of the T’s Department of System-Wide Accessibility, rode the elevator down to the Green Line platform and said the new station will make getting around the city easier for himself and others who use wheelchairs.

“It’s going to allow us to get to locations directly rather than having to travel along the sidewalks,” he told the News Service. “Especially in the winter, traveling in the city in the winter is far more challenging so I think having this station available to me is going to be fantastic.”

Monday was the first time Sampson, or any other person with a disability, was able to use Government Center station, according to officials. Before the renovation, Sampson would have to get off the T at State Street station and then navigate the uneven sidewalks to get to his destination, he said.

The new station features the same basic layout as the older station and some old treasures were uncovered in the remodeling, including a Scollay Square mosaic, recalling the neighborhood’s prior name, that was reconstructed piece-by-piece, according to an MBTA official.

Congressman Michael Capuano, a Somerville Democrat, remembered the old Scollay station and other modernizations in the system while giving hope that the Green Line would be extended out to his city.

“The last time I felt this good was when they took the wooden escalator out of the South Station stop on the Red Line. Anybody remember that?” Capuano asked the crowd. Inviting the audience to imagine the excitement around “seven new accessible stops” on the Green Line Extension, Capuano said, “For me 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 via Somerville, Cambridge and Medford.”

Walsh said Government Center is a “focal point” in the city. The two-year closure caused an inconvenience for people and the reopening would make people “pretty excited,” he said.

“They still have about another four or five months of outside work to do, exterior work, before it’s fully open, but the inside’s all set now, so it’s open now today,” Walsh told reporters.

Pollack said more than 10,000 people used the fare gates at Government Center before it was closed for construction and many more used the station to transfer.

Written by Andy Metzger