Editorial: Reboot needed on Red Line repairs?

Six weeks ago, a Milton man fell to his death through a rotted-out, fenced-off staircase next to the JFK-UMass station. This week, another man was nearly struck by a piece of metal that broke off from another stairway inside the Savin Hill station. And the concrete stairs at Fields Corner are clearly crumbling underfoot.

The recent rash of incidents along the Red Line aren’t just a Dorchester problem. A train derailed along the platform at Broadway three weeks ago. Another person was injured when an escalator apparently malfunctioned downtown that same week.

It’s been a tough string of events for the transit system and its customers, who rely on it for transport and want to be confident that it’s safe for us— and our kids— to use.

The decaying conditions are particularly maddening since it was not that long ago – the early 2000s – that four of our Dot stations were rebuilt at a significant cost to taxpayers. The upgrades came after a resident-led movement succeeded eventually in getting state officials to agree to fix them, or in the case of Ashmont, to invest in a brand-new station. The organizing was pre-Twitter and pre-Facebook. Instead, residents “tapped into emerging e-mail chains to ferment an alliance of dissatisfied T-riders along the spine of the Dorchester Avenue corridor,” the Reporter noted in 2001. “The activists’ focused lobbying kept lawmakers laser-locked on their own efforts to push through bond money to fund the T improvements.”

The “tipping-point” came in 1999, when a few hundred people attended a meeting at what is now the Leahy-Holloran Community Center to demand action. Residents grilled T General Manager Robert Prince, who agreed on the spot that the Dot stations would get the attention on his watch that had evaded the neighborhood under other GMs.

“Short of my demise, we’re going to put things in place that are irreversible,” Prince assured the crowd. He was sincere, but he still needed the political heft of Democratic-led Legislature to get a bond bill passed to pay for the fixes. Things finally crystallized in the fall of 2000, when Speaker of the House Tom Finneran got Gov. Paul Cellucci to sign off on a $66 million bill to renovate the Ashmont, Shawmut, Fields Corner and Savin Hill MBTA stations. Later, more money was allocated to do a complete tear-down and rebuild at Ashmont.

It took a few years, but by 2005 the first of the “new” stations had re-opened at Savin Hill, site of this week’s fallen section of stairway. In the interim 16 years, there no doubt has been plenty of wear and tear and weather impacts on the renovated stations. The current MBTA leadership— to their credit— has “increased capital spending every year since 2015 to help make transit services and infrastructure more reliable,” according to a T spokesman.

Still, it’s alarming to see people endangered by infrastructure that’s crumbling underfoot or overhead.

Perhaps it’s time to dust-off a concentrated, 21st century version of the 1990s campaign that was so successful in getting needed maintenance done at these stations.

JFK-UMass station, which was not part of the early-aughts restoration jobs, is in urgent need of upgrade and, perhaps, a total redesign. It would also be an ideal place to consider an Ashmont-style redevelopment project —including air rights— to better utilize the location, create housing and pump private dollars into the T system. We can’t allow our vital public infrastructure to decay to the point that people are imperiled.

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