MBTA Flood Resiliency Projects Face Major Test As Henri Approaches

New flood barriers being installed outside the Aquarium MBTA station on the Boston waterfront
New modular flood walls, which can be deployed ahead of major storms, were installed around the perimeter of the Aquarium Blue Line station on the Boston waterfront in winter 2021. Courtesy of the MBTA.

In recent years, the MBTA has implemented several large infrastructure projects intended to protect the transit system against major storms. Now, as tropical storm Henri threatens a direct hit over eastern Massachusetts this weekend, those projects will face a major test.

Forecasters say that Henri could bring up to 8 inches of rainfall to parts of the state, plus sustained high winds and storm surges that could flood low-lying areas along the coast.

At a press conference hosted by Governor Baker on Friday afternoon, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak told reporters that MBTA workers are already busy preparing for the storm by deploying new flood walls and preparing alternative service plans.

“We have been strengthening a number of the vulnerable spots we have at the T to (the storm’s) weather impacts,” said Poftak. “We will be deploying a defensive system around Aquarium Station, and we will eventually close that station when the team on the ground determines it’s appropriate to do so.”

These new modular flood walls around the Aquarium station entrance were just installed earlier this year, specifically to guard the low-lying waterfront station against storm surges, which have damaged and shut down the station in the past.

During a month-long closure of the Blue Line at the start of the pandemic last year, MBTA crews made a number of additional upgrades to Blue Line tunnels to guard against floodwaters.

Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesperson, says that that closure allowed crews to remove inactive cables, ducts, and panels to prevent further corrosion, seal cracks and other potential water entry points, repair water-damaged concrete, replace corroded track elements, and relocate critical fire hose connections and drainage pumps.

The T is also prepared to deploy another brand-new flood-prevention system on the Green Line this weekend.

In November, construction wrapped on a project that installed a new flood barrier and a set of metal doors at the Green Line’s tunnel entrance in the Fenway neighborhood, in order to keep the nearby Muddy River from spilling into the tunnel during heavy rains.

A third resiliency project – a new seawall to protect the Charlestown bus garage from storm surges along the Mystic River – also wrapped up construction earlier this year (although work is ongoing on a waterfront bike path along the new embankment).

In spite of these preparations, Poftak warned that riders should still expect major disruptions from this weekend’s storm.

“Particularly on Sunday, folks should not be traveling unless they need to be out traveling. The T will be operating on a reduced schedule, but it is really intended for essential travel only,” he said.

In addition to general reductions in transit service, some lines and routes will close altogether on Sunday, including all ferry routes, the Mattapan High-Speed Line, and the D Branch of the Green Line.

Updates will be posted to mbta.com.

 

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