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Close to 1,900 sign Somerville petition protesting Green Line delay

Posted by Matt Byrne  August 8, 2011 10:00 AM

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Anger, frustration, and an undercurrent of disappointment.

"Enough is enough," said one commenter.

"Unacceptable," another resident wrote.

"Get. It. Done," wrote a third.

Those comments and score like them were penned by some of the close to 1,900 who have signed an online petition to urge lawmakers and state transportation officials to follow through on years of promises to complete the Green Line extension through Somerville.

The billion-dollar project, already beset by delays and skyrocketing cost estimates, suffered at least a four-year setback Monday, when transportation officials announced the project would likely be completed no sooner than the fall 2018.

The petition is the latest effort by the City of Somerville to hold state officials accountable to the years of promises they have made, said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone, in comments after the announcement.

And so far, many residents agree.

"This is an embarrassment for the state and underscores its complete failure to address the chronic underfunding of transportation," wrote Alex Epstein, who was 123d to sign on to the petition.

"The quarter-million residents of Somerville, Cambridge, Medford, and Arlington have been snubbed yet again. We will not stand for this injustice," Epstein wrote.

Talk of the extension today followed Richard Davey, T general manager, who was appointed the state's new transportation secretary by Governor Deval Patrick. Davey said earlier this week that the extension will be built and that the project has the full backing of the state.

Davey said at an afternoon news conference that he did not plan to ask the Legislature for more money to complete the Green Line extension.

He said he understood that “folks were disappointed” with the delay in the project, and added that both he and Jeffrey Mullan, who he replaced, were “not happy” about it, either. He said he would be working with Curtatone and others to see if the state could “claw back” the project’s timetable so it can be completed more quickly.

“That’s primarily what we’re going to be focused on, to see if we can get that back, if not on schedule, at least better than what we quoted, which was the range of 2018,” Davey said.

He said he is counting on federal aid but would also look at private funds, if those were available. “Everything needs to be on the table,” Davey said.

“Look, it’s on a schedule,'' Patrick said. "It’s been put back on the schedule because we have to be realistic about what we can afford to do today, and how it ranks in the priority of things that need to be done. It’s a commitment that I have made. It’s a commitment the Commonwealth has made. It’s a commitment we will keep.”

Online, residents who signed the petition against the delay took issue with the state's apparent flaunting of the 2014 deadline set by a court decision that identified the extension as a mandatory project to remediate added air pollution caused by the Big Dig.

"What good is a legal mandate if it can simply be ignored," wrote the 274th signer, who did not give a name.

"We NEED this expansion of public transit - we are LEGALLY ENTITLED to it," wrote Julia Poirer, the 281st signature.

That case was driven by the Conservation Law Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that pursues legal and economic solutions to environmental problems in New England. The group won court backing for a host of projects to improve air quality, some of which have received more attention that others, said Raphael Mares, a CLF attorney.

"I think underlying all of this is an attempt to address the fact that we're underfunding transportation in general," Mares said in a phone interview.

"While its never popular to raise revenue, it's necessary because our transportation infrastructure is crumbling. We can't delay ... or there could be dire consequences," he said.

Meanwhile, petitioners have balked at the effect on home values and rent, which some said have nosed skyward as landlords anticipate demand in areas that are slated to receive nearby T service when the extension is complete.

"It's getting very frustrating living in Union Square," wrote Shawn Engel, number 335 on the petition list. "It's a wonderful and promising community, but uncertainty about the Green Line extension threatens civic development, scares off investment in property and businesses, and is, to tell you the truth... just getting really annoying."

Maxwell's Green, a $52 million residential development that broke ground last month after years of discussion, is closely tied to Green Line plans. The project, to feature nearly 200 rental units, would nestle near one of the proposed stops.

Davis Square Partners, the development partnership behind the Maxwell's Green project, said in a statement that while the four-year delay is "disappointing," the delay "will have no impact on the Maxwell's Green scope, financing, marketing plan, or construction timetable," the company said in a statement.

But the rippling effect for individual homeowners was somewhat different, if the petition comments were any indication.

Some signers wrote that they moved to Somerville or Medford anticipating the extension, only to be chronically disappointed.

"We made a decision to stay in Somerville based on the Green Line extension," wrote Beth Forrest, lamenting the "unacceptable" delay.

Stephen Byers, number 607 on the petition list, expressed in a few words the apparent thesis to many of his fellow commenters

"Somerville deserves better than this."

Globe staff writer Michael Levenson contributed to this report.

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