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In Medford, Somerville, gripes over Green Line plans

Plans for stations, repair yard are hit

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / May 8, 2008

State transportation officials drew the ire of officials and residents from Somerville and Medford this week when they announced their picks for five stations and a rail-car maintenance yard to serve the Green Line extension.

In particular, Somerville residents found fault with plans to locate a nearly 12-acre maintenance yard in the city's Inner Belt, while the placement of a station near Tufts University elicited cries of favoritism from Medford residents.

The proposals were unveiled to the Green Line Extension Project Advisory Group at a meeting Monday attended by several dozen residents. State officials stressed the evolving nature of the project, saying that it will be refined, reviewed, and finalized over the next two to three years, and that construction could be completed by 2014.

The state will hold sessions specifically to gather public input and neighborhood feedback in the coming weeks, in addition to the regular advisory group meetings, officials said. Project planners also will visit Medford's City Council meeting Tuesday night to summarize their proposals and answer questions.

At Monday's meeting, Somerville representatives were disappointed by a plan to put the 24-hour maintenance yard - which would be an indoor and outdoor work and storage facility for 80 cars - in the Inner Belt, a commercial warehouse district in the city's southeastern corner.

Somerville planners are hoping to reshape the area with the kinds of businesses and residences that would be attracted by a Green Line station. A large, noisy rail yard instead could thwart those plans, they said.

Medford representatives and residents, meanwhile, were upset about the location of a station platform near Tufts University, which they said favored the school at the expense of residents who oppose the project and don't want a station in their neighborhood.

Despite the criticism, the Somerville and Medford camps maintained their traditional outlooks. In Somerville, officials and residents who watched the Red Line transform Davis Square seek the Green Line to enhance Union Square, boost property values in the eastern half of the city, and redevelop underutilized areas.

But the proposed rail yard and a plan to put one station, not two, in the Brickbottom and Washington Street areas showed a lack of concern for those goals, several from Somerville said.

In Medford, where the Green Line would run though long-established neighborhoods, people are split. Some share Somerville's enthusiasm, while others fear it would change their neighborhoods for the worse - either by bringing crime and increasing parking problems or by luring young professionals and Boston commuters who might price residents out of their homes.

Town-and-gown tension with Tufts also affects local feelings. That was all present Monday, when dissatisfied Medford residents did not fail to note the dissatisfaction coming from the Somerville side.

"Somerville's starting to see that not everything is as rosy-posy as it was once presented," said William Wood, a Medford representative to the advisory group and an outspoken critic of the Medford extension.

Wood contended that the state conspired with Tufts to serve the university at the expense of the Medford community. "Three years ago, I said Tufts would not get hit by this project. [And today] I am totally amazed that you found a way for Tufts not to get hit by this project," said Wood, saying the proposed station halfway between College Avenue and Winthrop Street - at roughly the midpoint of the campus's northern border - would serve Tufts and a recently built university garage while generating unwanted noise and foot traffic for residents nearby.

"They are great, great planners at Tufts University," said Wood. "I think maybe the state ought to join with Tufts and plan this project."

The Green Line extension would run alongside existing commuter-rail tracks northwest of the Lechmere terminus. The state's first proposed station platforms would go between the Brickbottom neighborhood and Washington Street in Somerville; near Gilman Square, behind Somerville High School and City Hall; on the north side of Lowell Street, adjacent to a development proposed for the so-called Maxpak site in Somerville; on the north side of Broadway in Ball Square; and between College and Winthrop in Medford.

Additional proposals - for a station that would extend the route through Medford's Hillside to Route 16 and the Mystic River, and for a Somerville spur that would route the Green Line to Union Square - will come in the next few months, said Stephen M. Woelfel, the transportation office's lead official for the project.

Somerville officials and residents were disappointed that the state slated the maintenance yard for the Inner Belt instead of even farther southeast, in the corner where Somerville meets Cambridge and Charlestown by Interstate 93. That area already houses a commuter-rail maintenance barn, which serves the suburban lines that slice through Somerville but do not stop there. Woelfel said that site was not viable for multiple reasons, including the need to take a small piece of the NorthPoint project, a nearly 45-acre development situated mostly in Cambridge.

That caused Somerville residents and officials to accuse the state of favoring NorthPoint over Somerville's vision for the Inner Belt.

"I want to support the project. We've worked very hard to see this happen," said Ellin Reisner, an advisory group member who represents the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership, a community group that has advocated for the Green Line. "But we have to do it in a way that doesn't [harm] the community."

Woelfel said the state weighed cost, neighborhood concerns, handicapped accessibility, existing layouts, and other factors in proposing the stations and maintenance yard. "We're not perfect, but we're trying to get a project that works for everybody," he said.

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