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The T Expects A Do-Over Groundbreaking for Its New Quincy Bus Garage This Summer

4:45 PM EDT on July 19, 2023

A row of men and women, most of whom are wearing business suits, toss shovelfuls of dirt into the air inside an empty warehouse building in front of a blue backdrop that's been set up for a press conference.

Elected officials including Gov. Charlie Baker (5th from the left) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (6th from right, in blue jacket) toss a ceremonial pile of dirt inside an abandoned Lowe’s store for the first groundbreaking of the Quincy bus garage project in February 2022. The Lowe’s has been demolished, but actual work on building the new garage has been on hold for over a year. Photo by Joshua Qualls, courtesy of the Governor’s Press Office.

The MBTA expects to resume work on a new bus garage in Quincy later this summer after escalating costs forced the agency to put the project on hold last year.

The MBTA's plans to electrify and expand its bus fleet hinge on its ability to build new facilities that can store, maintain, and recharge new fleets of electric buses.

For the past three years, the T has been planning to build its first new bus garage in decades, on the site of an abandoned Lowe's big-box store in Quincy. The facility would replace a smaller 90-year-old garage on the other side of the city.

In the winter of 2022, Governor Baker and former MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak hosted a ceremonial groundbreaking for the project (pictured above).

But the celebration was premature. The T did accomplish some work in 2022, including the demolition of the old Lowe's, but bids for actually building the new facility came in nearly 30 percent over the T's budget.

Over the winter, the T scaled back the project to control costs and issued another solicitation for bids under a more flexible "construction management at risk" (CMAR) process.

In January, the T awarded a CMAR contract to Suffolk Construction, according to MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo.

Pesaturo told StreetsblogMASS that Suffolk is getting ready to continue site preparation work in August, starting with an extension of Columbia Street along the northern edge of the future garage.

Suffolk, the MBTA, and various subcontractors are also collaborating this summer to finalize the design with an eye toward controlling costs. The MBTA's board is expected to approve a final "guaranteed maximum price" contract for the project this fall.

Updated design, higher costs

The budget for building the new garage has gone up about 20 percent over the past year. The MBTA's 2023 capital budget authorized a $402 million budget for Quincy; the proposed 2024 capital budget authorizes $476 million.

A rendering of a new bus garage, showing a gray, low-slung building with eight garage doors facing the viewer, and three black-and-yellow MBTA buses parked in the lot in front. In the foreground, a bike rider and two pedestrians walk along the garage driveway. The MBTA's "T" logo is visible on the top of the building.
A 2021 rendering of the proposed Quincy bus garage on Burgin Parkway in Quincy, across the street from the Quincy Adams Red Line station. The proposed garage was designed to store new electric buses, but construction has been on hold for more than a year now. Courtesy of the MBTA.

The updated design includes several changes to reduce the project's costs, including the removal of some office space and reducing the building's height from three stories to two.

Consistent with previous designs, the new Quincy garage will accommodate 120 buses. The existing Quincy garage, located on the other side of the city, only has space for 86.

One silver lining in the project's delays: improvements in battery technology have allowed for some other cost-saving design changes.

"Previously, one charging unit was available for only two buses, but now one is available for three," wrote Pesaturo in an email.

Pesaturo says that the new garage is now on schedule to open three years from now, in 2026.

North Cambridge Garage Renovations Also Getting Underway

A much smaller project to renovate an existing bus garage in North Cambridge will also get underway later this year, says Pesaturo.

The North Cambridge garage on Massachusetts Avenue west of Davis Square was the former home of the MBTA's electric trolleybus fleet.

The North Cambridge project budget is just $36 million – less than one-tenth the cost of the Quincy garage.

The facility is significantly smaller than the Quincy garage, with space for just 35 buses, and because it was already being used for electric buses, it already has robust connections to the electric grid.

Pesaturo told StreetsblogMASS that the North Cambridge project "will be advertised for construction bids next month" and would be ready for service in 2025.

Price for New Arborway Garage Approaches Half A Billion

Meanwhile, the T is also making progress on early designs for its next new garage in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

The garage would have two levels for bus parking with space to accommodate 200 electric buses.

It would replace an existing open-air yard for the MBTA's methane gas-powered buses, which are nearing the end of their useful life.

A rendering of a new bus garage being planned along the Arborway near Forest Hills. The image shows a long, two-story warehouse building with gray brick and windows on the ground floor and green vertically striped siding on the top floor. In the foreground are people walking and biking along the existing Arborway bike path.
A rendering of the proposed new Arborway bus garage. Courtesy of the MBTA.

The expanded garage space would also let the T buy more 60-foot articulated or "bendy" buses, like the ones that currently serve routes 39 and 28. The T plans to use those additional higher-capacity vehicles on Route 32, which runs along Hyde Park Avenue between Forest Hills and Readville.

Once the new garage is built, roughly 6 acres of land along Washington Street, where the current bus yard is located, would become available for new transit-oriented housing development.

An aerial view of the neighborhood east of the Forest Hills subway station in Jamaica Plain highlighting the MBTA-owned land along the Arborway and Washington Street where the T plans to build a new bus garage. The site is highlighted in red and is shaped like a backwards seven in the middle of the image.
An overview map of MBTA-owned land next to Forest Hills Station where the T plans to build a new bus garage. The new garage would be built along the Arborway, and could also free up over 6 acres of land for new transit-oriented housing along Washington Street, where the existing bus yard is located.

The T would like to wrap up its preliminary design for the project this summer, and have its final plans for construction to begin by 2025.

However, as with the Quincy project, the T is expecting to pay an eye-popping price for the new building: its current construction budget is $495 million.

At a public meeting for the project last month, Alexandra Markiewicz, the T's Deputy Director of Bus Modernization, noted that "this estimate does not include total costs that you might see in the capital improvement plan, like some of our additional professional services, utility upgrades, and back-end costs."

In 2017, MBTA staff estimated that it would cost $808 million to modernize and replace all nine of its bus garages.

The combined costs of the Quincy and Arborway projects alone will surpass that 2017 estimate, with six more large garage replacements or renovations remaining on the T's to-do list.

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