MBTA to shut down Sunday, interim GM search begins

The process to replace outgoing MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott has begun behind closed-doors as some questions about her surprise departure remain unanswered.

"We just set it in motion today. Give us a little while," Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told reporters after attending a closed-door executive session with the rest of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board of Directors. Pollack said that the discussion, which lasted close to two hours, was about the "process and next steps for selecting an interim general manager."

A day after a bombastic press conference and shortly after the MassDOT board took a vote of confidence in her, Scott on Wednesday announced she would leave the transit agency, which has been pummeled by snow and cold leaving commuters stranded at times.

The announcement that Scott would leave the job April 11 arrived when the MassDOT board was in executive session Wednesday and she did not specify the reason she was leaving.

"Dr. Scott came into the meeting and told us that she was submitting her resignation. The governor has already told you he didn't ask for that. And I'm telling you I didn't and our board didn't," MassDOT Board Chairman John Jenkins told reporters, noting the board had expressed its confidence in her.

Asked if she asked Scott to stay on, Pollack said, "I don't want to talk about the specifics of the executive session." Pollack also declined to offer her thoughts on whether Scott's departure and the recent troubles with the T would make it more difficult to convince someone to take the post.

When Pollack was asked whether Boston, which has been touted as a "world class city," has a world-class transportation system, she ended the brief media availability, saying, "I just wanted to talk to you a little bit about the (executive) session."

Pollack said the board "would like" to have an interim general manager in place before Scott's April 11 departure. She said, "Our number one priority is the smooth operation of the T."

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh suggested on Thursday the MBTA should not run over the weekend if a blizzard hits the city. Forecasts predict strong winds and snow in eastern Massachusetts.

"I think if we get a blizzard on Sunday, I would suggest that the T gets shut down Saturday night into Sunday and possibly Monday, so that proper snow removal can happen on the MBTA," Walsh said Thursday, according to the Boston Globe. Walsh on Friday issued a statement clarifying his position, and said he hopes the T remains open.

"Closing the T for the weekend would pose an incredible hardship to workers and people living throughout Boston," Walsh said, indicating he hoped the system "can safely remain running."

Pollack said "much more was made" of Walsh's comments and after speaking to his staff she understands he is satisfied with the MBTA's plan. MassDOT subsequently announced a plan largely in keeping with Walsh's suggestion.

"He had some concerns about whether his folks would be able to clear the streets. We now have a clear process in place that if he needs us to move bus routes or do things that help make sure he can clear the streets, he can do it, and he's very comfortable with us operating service tomorrow, and that's the important thing," Pollack said.

Later in the day, MassDOT announced the MBTA would suspend all service, including bus, on Sunday. The T will run service Saturday, but won't run late-night service Saturday night.

Asked about the state of the transportation system around Massachusetts, Pollack said, "On the major highways they have of course been clear since shortly after the last storm." She said cities and towns are clearing their infrastructure "with a lot of help" from the National Guard and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

"Everyone is well aware that the next storm is on their doorstep," Pollack said.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday said he expects the next storm to arrive late Saturday evening and carry over into Sunday with "pretty significant force. With schools across the state heading into a vacation week and families planning getaways, Baker said he expects "limited flights" out of Logan International Airport on Sunday.

"You should plan on delays, and in many cases cancellations," Baker said.

The storm, according to Baker, is expected to bring high winds and cold temperatures. He urges drivers to stay off the roads Saturday night and Sunday to allow plows to clear the streets, and said he hadn't ruled out a travel ban, but would try to give at least 12 hour of notice if he took that step.

[Matt Murphy contributed reporting]