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Beginning March 2022, MBTA Routes 71 and 73 Trolley Buses To Be Replaced with Diesel-Hybrid Buses due to Roadway Projects on Mt. Auburn Street, Belmont Street, and Huron Avenue in Cambridge and Watertown

Posted on January 27, 2022

MBTA to advance design for North Cambridge bus facility conversion to battery-electric buses to take advantage of trolley bus substitution and expedite return of electric-bus service on Routes 71 and 73.

The MBTA, City of Cambridge, and City of Watertown announced today that five municipal and utility roadway projects in Cambridge and Watertown along Mt. Auburn Street, Belmont Street, and Huron Avenue are set to commence in spring 2022. These projects will reconstruct municipal streets and sidewalks, making streets safer and more inviting for people walking, biking, and riding the MBTA. These projects require an anticipated five-and-a-half-year shut down of the overhead catenary wire system used to power the MBTA’s only remaining trolley bus service on Routes 71 and 73. While the trolley bus service on Routes 71 and 73 will be replaced with diesel-hybrid buses for the first two years of this shutdown period, the MBTA expects to begin operating battery-electric buses (BEBs) on Routes 71 and 73 beginning in spring 2024.

As a part of the five upcoming roadway projects:

  • The Cities of Cambridge and Watertown will reconstruct approximately 1,100 feet of Belmont Street between Mt. Auburn Street and the Belmont town line. The project will take two years to complete. 
  • The City of Cambridge will reconstruct Huron Avenue between Fresh Pond Parkway and Cushing Street. The project will take approximately two years to complete.
  • The City of Watertown will reconstruct Mt. Auburn Street between the Cambridge city line and Patten Street through the State’s Transportation Improvement Program. The project will take about four years to complete.
  • In advance of Watertown’s Mt. Auburn Street project, National Grid will install a new gas main on Mt. Auburn Street from Belmont Street to Watertown Square (approximately two miles). This project will take two years to complete.
  • In advance of Watertown’s Mt. Auburn Street project, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) will install a new 20-inch water pipeline for 1,000 feet on Mt. Auburn Street in Watertown. This project will take one year to complete.

These planned roadway projects require the overhead catenary wire system to be de-energized so construction can safely proceed. As such, and in parallel with the MBTA’s plans for the new North Cambridge facility, the MBTA will remove the overhead catenary wire system in preparation for a BEB fleet. Removing the overhead catenary wire system allows construction to proceed and creates more design flexibility in these high-priority corridors, including opportunities for separated bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, and transit priority infrastructure.

The MBTA also announced that the design process to convert the MBTA’s North Cambridge bus facility from an electric trolley bus facility to one able to accommodate BEB technology will continue in 2022. These roadway reconstruction projects make this the opportune time for the MBTA to advance the conversion of the North Cambridge facility without any additional impacts to T customers. The MBTA has set a goal to start construction by spring 2023, taking advantage of the shutdown in operations at the facility associated with the roadway projects in Cambridge and Watertown along Mt. Auburn Street, Belmont Street, and Huron Avenues. 

In support of the MBTA’s goal to electrify its entire 1,150-bus fleet by 2040, the project will expand the North Cambridge facility’s capacity from 28 electric trolley buses to 35 BEBs. The project also includes the installation of overhead charging equipment, electrical infrastructure, an above-ground diesel storage tank for auxiliary heaters, and the removal of overhead catenary wires and poles in Cambridge and Watertown. When complete, this project will provide increased reliability for bus riders through BEBs’ more flexible technology, provide more equitable service and cost efficiencies through a standardized BEB fleet, and reduce vehicle emissions an estimated 72% as compared to the current operation.

“I want to express my gratitude to our partners in Cambridge and Watertown for coordinating with the MBTA on these complex projects,” said MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak. “This construction schedule will allow the MBTA to accelerate the work of retrofitting the North Cambridge garage and provide battery-electric bus service to these critical transportation corridors.”

The MBTA has advanced preliminary design for the North Cambridge facility conversion to position the Authority to quickly implement the project, reduce the number of years that diesel replacement service is operated out of the T’s Charlestown bus garage, and minimize additional costs and emissions associated with replacement service. The design for the facility conversion is currently at a preliminary (30%) level. The MBTA intends to fund the project in the FY23 MBTA Capital Investment Program. A public meeting on the MBTA’s BEB Program Strategy that includes the North Cambridge project and design is currently being scheduled and is anticipated for February 15, 2022. The design is scheduled to be completed by fall 2022 with construction scheduled to begin by March 2023. Initial operation of the BEBs from the new facility is anticipated in 2024, replacing the diesel-hybrid substitution service resulting from the five municipal roadway projects.

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