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Phased construction could speed Green Line's extension to Medford, Somerville

Posted by Matt Byrne  September 16, 2011 01:00 PM

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Governor Deval Patrick and Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey met Wednesday with state legislators and local officials to discuss a plan to build in phases the extension of the Green Line to Medford and Somerville, which could kick-start construction, officials confirmed today.

The phase appproach would likely allow early station construction to begin while planners finalize the design of stops farther down the line.

The meeting follows the announcement last month that service on the billion-dollar extension project would start no sooner than 2018 and as late as 2020 so the state could acquire more than a dozen parcels of land along the proposed railway.

"We were happy to hear that the governor is still committed to moving forward," said Senator Patricia Jehlen of Somerville, who was joined by Senator Sal DiDomenico, and representatives Denise Provist, Timothy J. Toomey, Carl Sciortino, and Sean Garballey. Also present were officials from Medford, Somerville, and US Congressman Michael E. Capuano's office.

"We want to see shovels in the ground," Jehlen said.

The delay drew anger and frustration from many in the two communities north of Boston, which have awaited the line's arrival for close to a decade. News of the deal also prompted the City of Somerville to petition the state and Patrick to honor a commitment to break ground before the governor leaves office in 2012. So far, nearly 2,800 have signed the petition online.

"This is a project we have to do," said Cyndi Roy, spokeswoman for MassDOT. "The governor and Secretary Davey want to see that timeline sped up."

The state is bound to complete the extension project after it lost a lawsuit filed by the Conservation Law Foundation that sought to mitigate air pollution caused by the Big Dig. After the environmental group emerged victorious, the onus was on the Commonwealth to complete transit projects that would take cars off the road and improve air quality for cities impacted by the traffic of Interstate 93 and other roadways.

But despite the legal mandate, funding woes and planning delays have dogged the extension, with the state repeatedly pushing back projected start dates. If built as currently planned, the line would extend to Route 16 in Medford, and would service a swathe of the region previously accessible only by bus or commuter rail.

The project has been central to city plans to redevelop parts of formerly industrial Somerville, a city whose public transportation needs have grown. Now, as Somerville remakes its image as a desirable destination, Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone has increased pressure on state lawmakers to speed the process so that economic development may follow.

"We are leaving a whole lot more money on the table if we don't get started on this project," said Curtatone, referring to the boon he and others predict will spring from areas previously less accessible by public transit, such as Union Square and the Inner Belt.

While a phasing process would in the short-term favor Somerville as the community to receive service first, Jehlen stressed that the local delegates agreed that the line must be extended to Medford to be considered a success.

"Everybody in the meeting said that you need to go west," said Jehlen, who was reached by phone.

Still unaddressed, though, are concerns about how the state will pay for it all. Estimates peg the cost at more than $1 billion.

"That's what we're going to roll our sleeves up and work out now," said Curtatone, who acknowledged that the state, with approximately $19 billion in deferred transportation liability, is not in the strongest position to fund a massive capital project.

"What people in the Commonwealth need to understand is that if you want a 21st century economy you need a 21st century transportation system," Curtatone added.

How the state will pay for the extension remains unclear, he said.

"The Commonwealth doesn't have a billion dollars to spend today. I know the governor, and he's trying to be creative," said Curtatone. "We can't continue to kick the can down the road."

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