The long-anticipated extension of the Green Line has been delayed an additional three years, state planners said today, with service to T riders in Somerville and Medford slated to begin in fall 2018 at the earliest.
Cause of the delay is the decision by transportation planners to wait to obtain all or most of the parcels of land and environmental permits the billion-dollar project requires, before it puts major design and construction out to bid, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation said in a statement.
While fall 2018 is the earliest projection, station service extending to College Avenue in Medford could be as late as 2020, the statement said.
"Let me be clear -- we are behind the Green Line extension," said T general manager Richard Davey, in a phone interview. "It will get built."
The agency said it is taking a lesson from the reopening of the Greenbush Commuter Rail line, which was fraught with delay when planners failed to buy all the land required to complete the project before it was put out to bid.
“The Green Line project team aims to prevent the issues that cost the MBTA both time and money,” MassDOT said in the statement.
In support of that commitment, Davey pointed to a deal to buy a parcel of land owned by Pan Am Railways required for the project, that was closed late last year, he said, and his agency’s continued efforts to buy two dozen Green Line cars for the extension. Still uncertain is the fate of a 24-hour, 11-acre maintenance facility in the Inner Belt section of Somerville, which planners have yet to acquire.
A total of 19 properties in Somerville and Medford must be acquired before federal environmental regulators will sign off, said Joseph Pesaturo, T spokesman, in an e-mail.
The announcement of the delay – made in an annual report to the Department of Environmental Protection – comes after the agency announced last July that it would push completion a year, to 2015.
“Obviously it's disappointing,” said Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which in the last year has undertaken a myriad of public meetings to hash out a second phase of the extension to Route 16 in Medford.
While acknowledging the given reason surrounding the need to buy land and acquire permits, Draisen said he suspected underlying financial instability.
“We want good roads, we want fast trains, and complete streets,” he said. “People want these things, but if you want ‘em you have to pay for ‘em.”
The state is legally bound to finish the Green Line project by the end of 2014 because of a lawsuit that requires the state to build non-automobile transportation projects to ameliorate the environmental impacts of the Big Dig.
Davey said he and Transportation Secretary Jeffrey B. Mullan, will work to “turn back the dial” from the 2018 projection, he said.
Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone, a longtime Green Line proponent, said he spoke with Mullan about the delay, and will seek more answers in coming weeks from transit planners, reiterating the legal obligation the state has to complete the project.
"The secretary committed to the project, to work with us to mitigate the time line and to break ground in a timely manner," said Curtatone. "And I take the secretary at his word."
He added later: “We will hold their feet to the fire, and the governor's administration, to make sure that happens.”