Omaha, Neb. — At a projected construction cost of $87 million, Boston’s transit centerpiece emerged from its transformative dormancy on March 21, when the first subway users in exactly two years crossed the threshold into Government Center Station. Built in 1898, just a year after Boston’s subway system opened as the first in the country, the station had not been significantly renovated since 1965. The new design cuts egress times by more than half and provides universal access for passengers with disabilities. As the project’s prime consultant, HDR worked hand-in-hand with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, overseeing all aspects of the renovation, including planning, design and construction.

Government Center Station is so named due to its proximity to Boston City Hall, state offices, and the JFK Federal Building. In 2013, the station averaged nearly 11,000 entries per day, according to the MBTA. On typical weekdays, commuters comprise a large portion of traffic streaming in and out of the station, traveling to and from the city’s economic and administrative center. Government Center’s role as a critical downtown hub of the MBTA system can also be deduced from its line-to-line transfers, which in 2013, accounted for nearly 28,000 passengers per day.

Working in tandem with the MBTA’s design and construction staff and its Department of System-Wide Accessibility, HDR prepared an accessible-station design that meets applicable Massachusetts Architectural Access Board and Americans with Disabilities Act regulations. Government Center Station was the MBTA’s last key subway and commuter rail station to be made accessible.  Universal access was paramount to station design and a driving force behind the project. A single, outdated stairway and three escalators were replaced by two stairways and all new escalators. Four elevators were installed for greater vertical mobility between subway platforms and surface entryways.

An option of closing the station to passengers while allowing trains to pass through during construction was identified early on, and the ultimate decision to do so was not made lightly. Impacts of closing the station versus keeping it open were thoroughly evaluated and included passenger and worker safety, subway operations, schedule and costs. In addition to an inherently safer work site, benefits of closure included time savings of about three years and cost savings of about $35 million.

“At the 30 percent design level, HDR discussed with the MBTA the idea of closing the station to perform the work as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible,” HDR Project Manager Don Swarce said. “Our team, which included a community liaison, worked with the MBTA to develop the closure plan. The resulting organized and early communication between the MBTA, major stakeholders and the people of Boston fostered goodwill and a true partnership throughout the closure period.”

HDR recommended closure for a period of 24 months starting March 22, 2014. On time to the day, construction is also on track to be completed under budget.

The new station complies with the MBTA's Secure Stations Initiative. More than 150 cameras scan every inch of the station, from entry doors and fare vending machines to platforms and elevators; additionally, every door has secured entry and appropriate intrusion and presence detection has been installed throughout the complex. HDR’s design integrated security considerations and employed a more open interior. It reduced the number of opaque objects for greater visibility, using open stair risers, see-through handrails and glass wall dividers.

Along with economics, accessibility and security, visual impact played a major role in the new design. The new headhouse is fully above ground and basks in 360 degrees of natural light, which is transmitted through its defining feature, a 40-foot-tall glass box. At night, colored LEDs radiate from the box’s steel frame. The glowing, glass tower serves as a new icon of Boston. It’s also a way-finding landmark and an aesthetic anchor amid constant movement at the center of a busy city.

“Working with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, we were asked to have a high level of detail and to make the entrance pavilion and striking glass structure a significant building that the city and MBTA would be proud of,” HDR Infrastructure + Transportation Architecture Director James McConnell said. “We believe we met that challenge. The glass box is highly functional and was placed precisely to align with surrounding architecture.  Meanwhile, both above and below ground, this structure helps people orient themselves to this important place in the city. For passengers exiting the station, daylight penetrating underground provides an intuitive way-finding element.”