As an impending winter storm threatens to throw an ice ball into Thursday travel plans, Gov. Charlie Baker urged non-emergency workers to stay home.
The combination of snow falling as fast as 3 inches per hour and 60-mile-per-hour wind gusts followed by bone-chilling temperatures will be a recipe for power outages, a chief concern of the governor.
"If in fact the storm ends up being a combination of snow and frozen rain in certain parts of Massachusetts - and we're staging people in the places where we think that's most likely to be the case - and then the next morning we're back to the arctic temperatures... and you have 60-mile-an-hour winds, the power outage issue becomes a real one," Baker said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, hours before the flakes are projected to fly.
Snow totals could reach 14 inches in some places, blizzard conditions are a possibility, and coastal flooding could hit parts of Plymouth County and Cape Cod, according to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, which predicted heavy, wet snow in the southeastern part of the state could create particular risks for power outages.
The winter wallop arrives in the midst of sustained frigid temperatures.
"Obviously the biggest cold snap in 100 years followed by what potentially will be a very significant storm will create challenges, and it's incumbent on all of us to do everything we can to make sure that the public has transportation options and that those options are safe," Baker said.
Driving will be treacherous during the heaviest snowfall when plows will be unable to keep up with the accumulation, the governor said in front of a bank of monitors at the state's Highway Operations Center in South Boston. State offices will be closed Thursday for non-emergency Executive Branch personnel, he said, as he also urged private employers to allow employees to work from home, if possible.
"We are urging the public to please stay off the roads tomorrow unless absolutely necessary and to use public transit," Baker said.
Trial courts around the state will be closed for the day, and the Supreme Judicial Court postoned arguments on the docket of cases scheduled to be before it on Thursday to Wednesday, Jan. 10.
After consulting with the U.S. Coast Guard, officials opted not to run MBTA ferry service Thursday, said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. Buses will replace the Mattapan trolley and the commuter rail will run at a reduced schedule, she said. "The MBTA is going to be there tomorrow for people who do need our transit system to get where they need to go," Pollack said.
In addition to installing miles of new third rail and attaching plows to the front of subway cars, the T's winter resiliency plan includes protocols for handling the weather, said Pollack, who said workers addressed two rails that were cracked by the cold Wednesday morning.
Reliability problems on the MBTA were a late entry onto Baker's first-year agenda when pounding snow and cold knocked out transit service weeks after the Swampscott Republican took office in 2015.
Asked to grade the MBTA's performance so far in this cold snap, Baker gave it an "incomplete."
"The goal here is to deliver as reliable and dependable and safe a service as possible through the course of the winter, and I certainly believe the T is far better prepared to do that given the investments that have been made over the course of the past several years than they were three years ago," Baker said. "We have to execute the follow-through."
Democrats hoping to win the Corner Office in November's elections will try to capitalize on the riding public's grievances with the current system of trolleys, buses, trains, subways and boats.
Democrat Jay Gonzalez, a gubernatorial candidate and the state's former secretary of administration and finance, plans to take a commuter rail, subway and bus during Thursday morning's commute. Jamaica Plain resident Brendan Halpin challenged public officials to commute by T for five days in a row, and Gonzalez's campaign said he would "solicit invitations from MBTA commuters using Twitter and Facebook to join them on their commutes to work" over the following four weekdays.
In September, Newton Mayor Setti Warren took a ride on the Red Line at a Suffolk University student's urging, reporting afterwards that while his trip "wasn't bad at all," the system is "broken; it's inadequate; it's under-resourced."
Baker said he was disinterested in the political ramifications of the T's performance during his pre-storm presser, but still managed a jab at the previous Patrick administration, for which Gonzalez worked.
"I'm actually a heck of a lot more interested in making sure that riders get where they need to go in a safe reliable way than I am in the politics of this," Baker said. "And from my point of view, the T went years and years without making the kinds of investments in its infrastructure or its operating policies that it should have been making. The T is moving aggressively to deal with those issues and has been for the past several years."