State transportation planners approved more than $476 million in funding for the Green Line Extension over the next four years, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority confirmed.
The Sept. 22 vote by the Metropolitan Planning Organization coincides with the start of the Federal budget year on Oct. 1, and will finance design, planning, vehicle procurement, and early construction, said Joe Pesaturo, MBTA spokesman, in an e-mail.
The cash will be delivered in increasing amounts each year, Pesaturo said, starting with $66.2 million in funding for fiscal year 2012. Funding increases the following years to $79.3 million in 2013 and $94 million in 2014, before the bulk -- $235.8 million -- is disbursed in 2015.
The state will raise the money with bonding, said Tom Bent, who has represented Somerville at the MPO for the last five years.
"It's real money," said Bent, reached by phone Tuesday. "This allows them to keep moving forward."
He said planners will likely begin to prepare for contractors to bid on the work soon, but could not give a specific time line.
Governor Deval Patrick, who promised that construction would start before he leaves office in 2014, has backed the extension publicly and in a spate of recent private meetings with statehouse lawmakers and elected officials from Medford and Somerville, reassuring them that the project would go forward despite years of delay and doubts about funding."The state hasn't done a great job getting us to this point, but the Governor said he's committed to this project, and the city of Somerville wants to get them to the point of no return," said Bent. "When a new governor comes in, we don't want it to get to a point where they cut the project."
The state is also expected to apply in December for funding from the federal government, which if approved, could pay for about half of the expected $1.2 billion price tag for the extension.
Regardless of federal dollars, Bent said, the state is on the hook for the whole amount, after it was ordered in a 2005 court decision to implement to project as air quality remediation after the Big Dig brought more pollutants to cities neighboring Boston.
The annual disbursements from the state that are approved through 2015 do not take into account plans for a phased approach to construction, a tack local and state lawmakers advocated for in a closed-door meeting with Patrick and State Transportation Secretary Richard Davey Sept 14.
Phasing may speed the construction of the nearest stations on the line, while planning and preparation continues on the farther-flung stops, officials have said.
Although no phasing plan has been finalized, the meeting buoyed confidence among local leaders, many of whom spoke out in August after the state announced a three-year delay of construction, pushing service on the extension to start no sooner than 2018 or 2020.
The announcement of the delay prompted renewed action from community members and local leaders, many of whom have spent nearly a decade advocating for the project, and now have grown openly frustrated after the repeated delays by the state.