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Somerville aldermen rail against Green Line delay

Posted by Matt Byrne  August 26, 2011 10:04 AM

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The Board of Aldermen passed a resolution last night calling for top state transportation officials to appear before it to answer for the recent delay of the Green Line extension project, and urged the mayor to explore renewing legal action against the Commonwealth.

“I want them to come before [the board] and tell us what their plan is, because I don’t see one here,” said Alderman Robert C. Trane, one of the sponsors of the resolution. “If they’re not going to fund this, what are they going to fund? I think there is a little bit of a shell game going on here.”

The resolution is the latest maneuver from a city that has embraced the extension as a cornerstone of a development plan that, if brought to fruition, would in time remake large, under-developed swaths of east Somerville. Aldermen said that area is underserved by public transit and plagued by noise and air pollution from adjacent Interstate 93.

But those development plans looked to be partially derailed last month, when the state announced in an annual report that trolley service to the extension would likely start no sooner than 2018 and as late as 2020. They attributed the delay to concerns over the acquisition of 19 chunks of real estate required to build the line, previously slated for completion by 2014.

Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone, an outspoken proponent of the extension who promised last month to hold the state accountable, has been in talks with the Conservation Law Foundation, a nonprofit that in 2006 sued the state to legally require the extension to be built to offset increased pollution caused by the Big Dig.

Curtatone may now renew that legal fight, city officials confirmed yesterday.

No state officials attended last night’s meeting.

The non-binding resolution endorsed by the board, a copy of which will be sent to Governor Deval Patrick, incoming State Transportation Secretary Richard Davey, and state environmental authorities, is largely symbolic, but contained some of the strongest calls yet for state action.

“Our only hope to be self-sustaining was this Green Line,” said At-large Alderman William A. White Jr. “They’ve basically given us the middle finger.”

White, who also sponsored the resolution, effectively accuses the state of stringing along residents who live in east Somerville nearest I-93, and who have been forced to bear the brunt of air and noise pollution from the busy roadway. His criticism touches on the wide-ranging impact of the project for city residents, which a number of aldermen cited last night.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless man-hours have been expended planning for the line, said board president Rebekah Gewirtz. Under the pretense of propelling transit-oriented development, the city also underwent a lengthy process to rezone the Union Square area, which would receive a station under the extension, said Alderwoman Maryann Heuston.

Heuston and others said that the delay sends the wrong message to developers, who would play a key role in bringing new business to the densely populated municipality.

“Here is a city that has done all of the right things,” Heuston said. “All we need is for the state to bring up the rear.”


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