The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is working on a plan to ease the plight of riders during a series of weekend commuter rail shutdowns set to begin in early July.
The MBTA expects to lay out those plans during a new round of community forums, according to Cape Ann’s state lawmakers, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and Reps. Ann-Margaret Ferrante and Brad Hill.
The plans — and dates for the forums — have yet to be released, even as Memorial Day weekend, the informal start to the summer season, draws near.
Meanwhile, the Cape Ann Transportation Authority, or CATA, has offered to assist the MBTA in transporting riders to and from Salem, stopping at T stations across Cape Ann, but has not heard from the T.
“We’ve gone from a situation where there was no plan whatsoever (to provide alternative service to commuters), to a point where that plan is in development,” Tarr said in a phone interview, “and the governor made it clear that this is a priority. So from that perspective, we have made significant progress.
“But time is of the essence,” Tarr said.”So it’s important not only that a plan get developed, but also that it get effectively communicated. Who knows? The first iteration of this plan may still not be acceptable. What happens then?”
Tarr, Hill and Ferrante this week sent a memo to residents who had signed up for updates when they attended an April 26 open forum at Gloucester City Hall to address the MBTA’s planned service suspensions and shutdowns. MBTA and state Department of Transportation officials backed out of the forum just 48 hours in advance, saying there was no mitigation plan to outline for riders. More than 150 commuters, other residents and officials joined legislators in voicing their frustration.
Under the MBTA proposal, the entire Newburyport/Rockport line — which serves Gloucester, West Gloucester and Manchester — would be shut down on weekends between July 8 and Sept. 30 for federally mandated safety upgrades.
In addition, all commuter rail service would be shut down north of Salem from July 17 to Aug. 13 to allow for replacement of the 130-year-old Beverly swing bridge. That time frame will also allow preparations to replace the more than century-old Annisquam River drawbridge in Gloucester, but would leave riders with no way to get to Salem and the commuter rail.
Joe Pesaturo, communications director for the MBTA, said in an email to the Times on Thursday that information will be made available next week.
The MBTA’s plans may or may not include CATA.
In a May 2 letter to MBTA chief administrator Brian Shortsleeve, CATA administrator Paul Talbot said the Gloucester-based regional agency could make available five buses to transport customers to Salem during peak weekday rail times at a fixed rate of $112 an hour.
“However, we would require time to locate and hire additional drivers for this service,” Talbot wrote.
Asked Thursday what he had heard in response from the MBTA, Talbot said, “Absolutely nothing.”
“They’re going to have to do something because a lot of people are going to have a lot of problems,” Talbot said in a phone interview Thursday. “But if they want us to do something, they should notify us now because we’d have to line up some drivers and set aside vehicles.”
Talbot said CATA has assisted the MBTA in the past by shuttling riders between stops during service disruptions, including for a few hours earlier this month when the MBTA had to repair tracks between Rockport and Gloucester.
“But this is a lot different,” Talbot said. “We’ll have to plan for this, and there’s not much time left for planning.”
Tarr said the MBTA’s lack of a response to CATA’s proposal as of Thursday is “frustrating.”
“There are a lot of things that remain frustrating about all of this,” he said.
“We are moving in the right direction,” Tarr added, “and I think we’re in a much better place than where we started. But I think we still have a long way to go.”
Staff writer Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or via email at email@example.com.