By Beth Treffeisen
MBTA Symphony station is beginning design work to make the underground, dark, inaccessible T station at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Huntington Avenue, into an updated, user-friendly station.
At a community meeting hosted by the MBTA at Symphony Plaza East on Thursday, Aug. 24, the initial design plans were presented to the public to get feedback and hear ideas on what the new station should look like.
“We are here to gain feedback on the accessibility improvements from the public,” said Eric LeGuelaff, the project manager at the MBTA.
The design of the project will take another year or two to complete. Construction of the accessibility upgrades is expected to begin in three to four years in 2019 or 2020. The station will remain open during construction.
“The construction design and construction period are long because there are a lot of unknowns,” said LeGuelaff. “Once things begin to come together with the design in the neighborhood we hope it will speed things up a bit.”
Residents in the community said that they had hoped that this project would take part alongside the streetscape project that is wrapping up, and would not be just starting now.
“As far as we think – it’s already too late,” said Barbara Brooks Simons of the Fenway News. “And this is desperately needed.”
One resident even stated, “I would like to see this happen before I die.”
Christopher Hart who oversees accessibility projects for the MBTA said that he understands that four years from now is a long time.
“All of us at the T want to get this done, but like every construction project, it does create a little mayhem,” said Hart. “It would be helpful to have community support as we move forward – it just takes time.”
The project includes installing four new elevators from the plaza level of the Symphony towers to the sidewalk and then the platform, construction of new emergency exit stairs, and raising the platform to accommodate low-floor cars.
Other renovations include updating the lobby, improving lighting, signage and wayfinding and installing a better fire-alarm system and public-announcement system.
The plans also include construction of new accessible restrooms. They will remain locked because of safety concerns, but will be available to the public with request to MBTA station employees. By code, the station has to include the bathrooms.
As the final design plans for the station begin, residents shared that they would like to see more of the cultural area that surrounds the station, such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Huntington Theatre, represented in a form of artwork within it.
“We held a stakeholders meeting and this topic came up before,” said LeGuelaff. “We will definitely take it back to the designers that it should reflect the neighborhood.”
But Pusch, who uses a wheelchair, said that he would like to see this project look into some solutions to help elevate the problems he faces while traveling along the narrow sidewalks.
“It is a heavy foot-traffic area around Symphony Hall, and on a wheelchair it can be tremendously difficult trying to get through there,” said Pusch. “Especially when a concert is getting out, I’m like a salmon trying to go through a bunch of people walking.”
Pusch asked that the MBTA should consider doing a traffic study to learn how to best accommodate pedestrians in that area. LeGuelaff said that that a project like this will definitely have an engineering study done in the area.
Alongside this project that will make the station accessible for all, the MBTA is currently undergoing the process to phase out the Green Line T cars that are not accessible by wheelchair. But, Hart said, he is not sure when it will be done.
Hart said that the MBTA plans to continue to reach out to the community for feed back on this project and again later on when construction begins.
Hart said, “As someone who has lived here for years, I would like to see this done as soon as possible as well.”