With New Buses Too Tall For Tunnel, Belmont Center T Stop Moving To UU Church

Photo: A current MBTA bus that fits under the commuter rail tunnel at Belmont Center.

The fleet of new buses purchased by the MBTA since 2017 will “help fulfill its environmental needs while increasing transit service,” according to the mass transit public agency.

The 350 hybrid Xcelsior vehicles manufactured by New Flyer of America are cleaner and far more fuel-efficient than the all-diesel buses being replaced, can hold more commuters, and best of all, will “provide a more comfortable ride for passengers.”

And they’re too tall to clear the Commuter Rail tunnel in and out of Belmont Center.

When the T took an XDE40 model for a spin to Belmont in the fall of 2019, it was discovered that the height of the new vehicles could not travel in the right-hand lane as it passed on Concord Avenue without taking off the top of the bus on the underside of the tunnel’s ceiling.

“The negative for Belmont and a handful of other communities that have this type of a bridge feature on their routes is the bus is too tall to get under the bridge,” said Glenn Clancy, director of the Office of Community Development and the town’s engineer before the Select Board this week.

The issue facing the T is the design of the commuter rail tunnel is a barrel vault which is a self-supporting arched form. Because the tunnel’s height diminishes as it curves to meet the supporting walls, a large vehicle that can successfully pass under using the middle of the road does not have the same clearance remaining on one side of a typical two-way road.

“I was at the MBTA in December and the new buses came up in conversation,” said Clancy. As a result, “the [MBTA bus lines are] not going to enter Belmont Center anymore.” The bus lines impacted are numbers 75 and 74.

The news couldn’t come at a more disadvantaged time for commuters as the new buses will come into service “at a June-ish timeframe,” said Clancy.

The current Belmont Center layover for MBTA buses at Alexander and Leonard.

For the faithful commuters who board the bus at the layover site adjacent to the Belmont Fire Station at the corner of Leonard and Alexander Avenue, the new buses will require riders to hike about a quarter-mile to a pair of proposed replacements stops and layover locations.

“[Town Administrator Patrice Garvin and I] were tasked with trying to find a new location for a layover. So working with the MBTA … we looked at some of the concepts and … there are two places where it would make sense: either in front of the Lions Club or in front of the First Church in Belmont, Unitarian Universalist on Concord Avenue across the street from the post office,” said Clancy.

But both locations have their own challenges. While the Lions Club site would be more convenient for commuters as they would not have to cross either busy Common Street or Concord Avenue, there’s this little thing called the Christmas tree sale, a more than 70-year holiday tradition that starts the Saturday after Thanksgiving and lasting until Christmas day week.

“I see that as one of the real civic functions that it’s a high profile thing that happens in the town. I don’t want to be known as the guy who resulted in the Lions Club not having this function every year,” said Clancy.

As a result, Garvin and Clancy had a conversation with a couple of members of the club stating their concern that the buses could make it by the club’s operation for the five weeks of the sale. Their response was positive.

“They’ve assured us that they can do that,” said Clancy.

But what determined the new location was an MBTA requirement a potential layover location would be long enough to accommodate two buses. The Unitarian Church has the space between their driveway curb-cuts while it would be a stretch at the Lions Club and along Royal Road.

Clancy said the First Church site has pedestrian access with the crosswalk in front of the post office, and while it would have been more desirable in front of Lions Club because there is a pedestrian underpass at the Lions Club, “we’ve settled on the [First Church] location to do this.”

“The T has already sent the bus out they’ve already made the route (which will require the bus to make a right-hand turn, loop around the WWI Memorial, and take a left onto Common towards Cambridge). They know they can make the turns so everything is great in that regard,” said Clancy.

The Stand-Up Campaign Comes To Belmont Tuesday

Photo: Logo.

The Stand-up Campaign, a new initiative based in Belmont, will hold a listening and information sharing meeting, “Kindness, Decency and Civil Discourse” on Tuesday, March 29 at 7 p.m. at the First Church Belmont, Unitarian Universalist Church, 404 Concord Ave.

This will be the first in a series of events to explore strategies to promote kindness, decency, civil discourse and civic engagement in schools, sports and the larger community.

Adults, teens, educators and school officials, town administrators and elected officials, coaches and sports administrators, public health and safety officers from Belmont and surrounding communities are encouraged to attend and to share their concerns, experiences and best practices, as well as suggestions for future programming.

The Stand-up Campaign was formed to address the uptick in targeted taunting and bullying in area schools and sporting events in recent months and to promote civil discourse between individuals and parties with opposing views.

The Stand-up Campaign has partnered with Belmont Against Racism and the Unitarian Universalist Social Action Committee for this event. For more information, contact Donna Ruvolo at 617-489-5446.  

This Weekend: Oscar Auction at First Church; ‘Charlotte’s Web’ at Town Hall

• An Evening at the Oscars!, a live auction along with a dinner and music will take place on Saturday, Feb. 7, from 5:45 p.m. to 10 p.m. at The First Church, Belmont, 404 Concord Ave. Auction items range from vacation getaways to donated items guaranteed to delight and surprise to raise money to support all of the church’s important committee, youth and adult education work. Tickets are $50 which includes a cocktail reception, live auction, dinner and live entertainment. The silent auction continues until Feb. 14.

• The Menotomy Musical Theater presents “Charlotte’s Web” Friday, Feb. 6 through Sunday, Feb. 8 at Belmont Town Hall auditorium, 145 Concord Ave. Adapted from the classic E. B. White novel, Charlotte’s Web tells the memorable story of Wilbur, a little pig who becomes famous with the help of his clever friend, a spider named Charlotte, and their chatty animal neighbors.

Performances: 

  • Friday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, Feb. 7 at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, Feb. 8 at 2p.m.

Price: $15 on-line or $20 at the door.

Information and Tickets available at www.menotomymusicaltheater.com

This Weekend: Stings and Ivory in Concert Saturday – But Call First

Photo: the Arneis Quartet on the move.

It could be quite snowy on Saturday so please call before heading out to these events.

• The Arneis Quartet will make its Belmont premier as part of the Belmont Public Library’s Music on Saturday concert series being held on Saturday, Jan. 243 p.m. to 4 p.m., in the library’s Assembly Room. The string quintet, made up of violinist Heather Braun and Rose Drucker, violist Daniel Dona and cellist Agnes Kim, is the faculty ensemble in residence at the Dana Hall School of Music. The concert will include:

  • Gardel: Por Una Cabeza
  • Wallace: pale reflections …
  • Dvorak: String Quartet in F major, Op. 96, “American”

Music on Saturday concerts are free to all thanks to the sponsorship of the Friends of the Belmont Public Library. Call 617-489-2000 for information.

• The First Church in Belmont, Unitarian Universalist will hold its 20th annual Piano and Organ Celebration Concert at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 24 at the church, 404 Concord Ave. Proceeds will be used to continue the restoration and maintenance of First Church’s Steinway grand pianos and the pipe organ in the sanctuary. Tickets are $10 at the door. Call 617-484-1054 x 206 or email alfajoy@uubelmont.org for more info. The snow date will be Sunday, Jan. 25. at 7 p.m.