MBTA Government Center Station

Government Center Station at night

MBTA Government Center Station

Modernized Transit Hub Offers Better Access, Greater Capacity and Advanced Security

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. 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 for Boston’s most modern transit station.

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 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 and across City Hall Plaza, en route to and from work in the city’s economic and administrative center. Government Center’s role as a critical downtown hub of the MBTA system is demonstrated by its line-to-line transfers, which in 2013, accounted for nearly 28,000 passengers per day.

Why the Upgrade?

Built in 1898, just a year after Boston’s subway system opened as the first in the country, Government Center Station had not been significantly renovated since 1965. In addition to creating greater visual impact, the new design cuts egress times by more than half. It also provides universal access for people with disabilities.

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 A single, outdated stairway and three escalators were replaced by two stairways and all new escalators.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.

At ground level, state-of-the-art, fare-collection equipment streamlined passenger entry and exit. Below ground, subway platforms were raised and re-contoured, which enhanced universal access, particularly for Green Line passengers.

Temporary Closure Made Good Economic Sense

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. The 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.”

At the 60 percent design level, HDR’s economists facilitated a workshop to evaluate potential impacts to cost and schedule. The resulting economic and technical analyses provided enough confidence to promise completion on budget, in exactly two years. The station was closed for construction on March 22, 2014, and reopened 24 months later, to the day.

During construction, HDR was responsible for reviewing all contract submittals, requests for information, change orders and project schedules, as well as recommending solutions to field issues. The final cost is on track to come in under budget.

Staying True to Boston

Along with economics and practicality, visual impact played a major role in the new design.

All of the buildings surrounding City Hall Plaza were built to showcase the civic architecture of their time. They include the 19th century Sears Crescent and the iconic, Brutalist-style Boston City Hall.

Government Center Station is for many transit users, a gateway to and from the heart of Boston, yet the former entryway to Government Center Station was virtually devoid of natural light. Its headhouse resembled a 12-foot-tall brick bunker and its entrance brought passengers underground almost immediately upon station entry.

The new headhouse is fully above ground and glows in 360 degrees of natural light, which is transmitted through its defining feature, a 40-foot-tall glass box. It was designed to retain architectural harmony with the buildings around it, as well as the historic view corridor along Tremont Street to the Old North Church.

Equipped with color LEDs to illuminate the exposed steel frame at night, the glowing, glass tower nevertheless serves as a new symbol of Boston. It’s also a way-finding landmark, an aesthetic anchor amid constant movement at the center of a busy city.

Next Generation Security

The station complies with the MBTA's Secure Stations Initiative. It contains about 10 times the number of security cameras used in the old station. 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. All cameras and access points are monitored by staff at the MBTA Operations Center. HDR’s design integrated security considerations to include 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.

“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.”

Government Center Station at night


Accessible Design Award (2019)
Design Awards
Boston Society of Architects Access Committee; Massachusetts Architectural Access Board
National Recognition Award (2017)
Engineering Excellence Awards
American Council of Engineering Companies
Diamond Award (2017)
Engineering Excellence Awards
American Council of Engineering Companies of New York
Public Works Project of the Year Award (2017)
Structures, More than $75 Million Category
American Public Works Association
Bronze Award (2017)
Engineering Excellence Awards
American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts
Best of Award (2016)
Best of Awards
Engineering News-Record New England