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Medford, Somerville differ on T plan

Green Line project inspires mixed views

With state officials expected to soon announce plans to build the Green Line extension to Somerville and Medford, reaction in those cities differed dramatically yesterday.

While Somerville officials were ecstatic about the project, Medford officials were cautious.

Somerville asserts that the line would open up hundreds of acres of land to development, create an estimated $4 billion in new real estate value, and allow the most densely populated city in New England to spread out; Medford has done no economic forecasts.

Michael J. McGlynn, Medford's mayor, said there is opposition in some parts of the city to the project, which would be one of the largest mass transit projects in Greater Boston since the Red Line's extension to Alewife in 1985.

Extending the trolley line to the Hillside area around Tufts University has received strong support, McGlynn said. But there are objections to extending the proposed line farther to West Medford, which is suffering a parking shortage and crowded streets caused by nonresident use of a commuter rail stop.

Tufts University, whose campus surrounds a possible station site at Boston and College avenues, hasn't included a firm commitment to the line in a master plan it's developing, university officials said.

''Everybody is in support of better public transit, and we're also in support of smart growth initiatives," said Lauren DiLorenzo, Medford's director of community development and a member of the MBTA's Green Line extension advisory committee. ''But we also recognize . . . that there are often unplanned negative impacts as a result of certain projects."

State officials are expected to announce in the next few weeks that they will move forward with the Green Line extension from Lechmere to West Medford, as part of a series of projects meant to offset added vehicle pollution from the Big Dig.

Before the extension can be built, the state must secure funding for the line, which early estimates say could cost between $340 million and $438 million. The state and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority must also agree on a route. The project would also need to pass environmental reviews.

Boosters in Somerville can't wait.

At a recent public hearing, proponents wore green ''Got T?" buttons and green-glowing necklaces. Hundreds attended another meeting during the final game of last year's World Series.

''You have an incredible unification and support for this," said Somerville's mayor, Joseph A. Curtatone. ''I understand the concerns of the Medford residents, but they need to look at what the Red Line did to Davis Square. Davis Square was a dump, and now it's thriving."

One sticking point is whether the line's route in Somerville will include a stop in Union Square at an extra cost of $50 million or more, officials said.

Curtatone called it a deal breaker. ''Any expansion of the Green Line must include a stop in Union Square," he said.

According to Stephen Mackey, president of the Somerville Chamber of Commerce, the Green Line extension is predicted to create 7,000 housing units, and 25,000 or more jobs in 7 million square feet of new commercial development, largely around the Inner Belt and Brick Bottom areas of the city, both near the Boston-Cambridge line.

The areas adjoin the $2 billion-plus North Point development in East Cambridge, a planned community of housing, office buildings, lab and retail space on 45 acres of what is now railyards and industrial space.

For a city of 77,000 with a current business real estate value of $250 million and a loss of $12 million in state aid last year, officials say it's difficult not to get excited.

''It kind of makes sense that you put transit through the most densely populated city in New England," Mackey said. ''You're going to have good ridership numbers."

The city estimates that 30,000 morning riders would use the proposed line, he said. Project planners have been more modest, saying the line could generate 10,000 to 14,000 new boardings a day.

Medford's approach is different. Most officials are unsure of the project's impact on the city of approximately 56,000 and how much economic growth it would bring.

Running the proposed line along the current Lowell commuter rail corridor may pose problems for Medford. That portion of the city is already dealing with parking issues around the current West Medford commuter rail stop, where a street-level crossing currently ties up traffic on Route 60. Nonresidents are parking on West Medford's main thoroughfares after city officials pushed them off residential streets by issuing resident-only parking permits, officials said.

The impact on Medford's neighborhood businesses is a concern, said McGlynn, who favors extending the line to Tufts. He's uncertain about going further.

''I know from the calls I've received it's a split decision," he said.

Mac Daniel can be reached at mdaniel@globe.com.

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