State officials paved the way Wednesday for a new transit link between Boston and Chelsea, approving a $33.7 million contract for the first phase of the Silver Line extension.
The dedicated bus route would run along old rail beds from the Mystic Mall to the edge of the city, near East Boston, continuing through traffic to Airport Station, a Blue Line stop, and then traveling to Boston's Seaport. Meeting in Chelsea City Hall, the state's transportation board approved of a contract for McCourt Construction Company that includes incentives and penalties for timely completion.
Adding Silver Line passengers creates a complication for the MBTA. The under-harbor route is already used to bring people from South Boston to Logan Airport, but the Silver Line's bus manufacturer is out of business.
The MBTA is rehabbing its current fleet, and researching new buses, MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott told the News Service.
"We don't have extreme difficulty in terms of the first phase," Scott said. "Trying the vehicles out is more complicated, but we'll do it."
In addition to the dedicated bus route and three stations at Mystic Mall, Box District and Eastern Avenue, the transportation project includes a shared-use path running along the route from Eastern Avenue into downtown Chelsea.
After the first phase is complete, MassDOT will go out to bid on a second phase, moving Chelsea's commuter rail station to the Mystic Mall and then building the Downtown Chelsea Station.
"The Silver Line I think is really going to have a big impact on business here in Chelsea, especially as we move to building more and more hotels," said Chelsea Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rich Cuthie, who said it would ease travel to and from the airport.
Cuthie told the News Service people in the community "are excited" about the project, and cautioned that the Silver Line would not be a "panacea relieving the pressure on our existing public transportation options."
A small, compact city, Chelsea is largely surrounded by water, and Cuthie said the buses that travel the 111 route from Haymarket Station through Chelsea are overcrowded and don't run frequently enough.
"This is a step in the right direction," said Rep. Dan Ryan, a Charlestown Democrat. He said, "It just opens up a whole different part of Boston."
McCourt's contract could vary by about $2.5 million depending on how quickly the company completes construction on the Washington Avenue bridge and on the first phase of the project as a whole. The completion date for the project is 728 days, or roughly two years, after the notice to proceed, according to Wednesday's meeting agenda. Construction is expected to begin later this year.