Officials vote to take next step on Green Line extension
BOSTON (AP) — The long-delayed plan to extend the MBTA’s Green Line to Somerville and Medford remains alive after a vote Monday to ask federal transit officials to review a modified proposal with a lower price tag.
The action on Monday by the state transportation board and the control board that oversees the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority came after several hours of discussion about the 4.5 mile Green Line extension.
Both boards voted unanimously to send the redesigned plan, cost estimate and revised project schedule to the Federal Transit Administration for review.
The move means the project will move forward for the moment, but will still need subsequent votes before getting a final OK from the state.
Democratic Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, a supporter of the project, said he was pleased.
Last week Somerville and Cambridge took the unusual step of offering $75 million to keep the project going. Somerville — which would enjoy the bulk of the extension — would kick in $50 million and Cambridge — which would get a new Lechmere Station — would contribute $25 million.
A new estimate pegs the cost of the redesigned project at $2.3 billion, which is higher than the original estimate of $2 billion but lower than projections that led to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration putting the project on hold last year.
Even with the contributions from Somerville and Cambridge, the project is still $73 million short.
“We’re talking about $73 million out of a $2-plus billion project that adds more than $3 billion to the Massachusetts economy,” Curtatone said. “I think we have enough creativity to figure that out.”
State Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack was more cautious.
She said federal officials will need to see a funding source for every dollar before signing off on their portion of the project — nearly $1 billion.
She said the state will try to come up with a revised finance plan, but can’t produce a final plan until federal transit officials weigh in with their estimate of the cost of the project.
“The board’s clear preference is to proceed with the project if there’s a way to pay for it,” Pollack said. “The ball is in the Federal Transit Administration’s court. They have to sign off on this in order to release the $996 million in federal money.”
Pollack made the comments after a packed public meeting which included testimony from dozens of supporters of the project — including environmentalists, local officials and residents of Cambridge, Somerville and Medford.
The state agreed to the Green Line extension back in 1990 as part of an environmental agreement that helped cleared the way for Boston’s massive Big Dig highway project. It calls for a 4.5 mile expansion of above-ground light rail service, six new MBTA stations and the relocation of the existing Lechmere Station in Cambridge.
Backers say the project would deliver an economic boost to a densely populated area that has become increasingly popular with young professionals and college students but has few mass transit options.
The modified plan calls for the same number of new stations, but their design would be simplified. For example, passengers would not pass through fare gates before climbing on trains. The MBTA also would renovate, rather than replace, several existing bridges, and a smaller maintenance facility would be provided.