The Green Line extension into Somerville and Medford, a project that was cast into doubt earlier this year due to projected cost overruns as high as $1 billion, probably won’t pick up momentum again until next spring at the earliest, Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack said Wednesday.
At a meeting of the state Department Transportation’s board, Pollack said officials are focused on four big questions: How much will the project cost? How should the project be contracted? How will the project be paid for? And what should the next steps be?
“The goal of our analysis is two-fold,’’ Pollack said. “We want to find out what happened. If we don’t understand how the project got as far as it got without really understanding what it would cost to deliver, we can’t guarantee to you or the Commonwealth’s taxpayers that we know how to deliver it at the new cost. And second of all, we need to establish the credibility and find the resources that will allow us to build that project, however we wind up re-scoping that project.’’
Pollack said state transportation leaders are working with outside lawyers and consultants on the issue, and have set up seven working groups to consider different aspects of the project. She said recommendations for addressing the deficit will be made to the MassDOT board and the MBTA’s separate Fiscal and Management Control Board on Dec. 9. (She and Gov. Charlie Baker had previously stated a goal of having a strategy in place by Thanksgiving.)
Once a strategy is in place, it will take some time before the next phase of the project can go forward. Depending on the strategy, delays could be caused by various factors: the time it takes to procure new contractors, for the legislature to take action to allow new debt, and for the T to resubmit a financial plan to the federal government—which has committed about $1 billion toward the project based on the previous estimate.
“We did not want people to mistake the fact that we are committed to having a path forward to recommend by early December with the fact that we would then sort of take this off of pause and immediately go back to where we were the day before we [learned about the overrun],’’ she said. “The earliest we would probably be in a position to proceed with the next [phase of the project] and beyond probably would be the spring. And that would obviously depend on what the findings are, what the path forward looks like, and the board’s reaction to those findings and the path forward.’’
Pollack was unwilling to say how long the project’s completion could ultimately be delayed. Prior to the cost increase, the first new stations were scheduled to open in 2017, with the rest to follow by 2020.
The secretary referenced comments from the public at a previous MassDOT board meeting, which suggested a delay to the project would be acceptable as long as it is still completed. She said the state has “taken those comments to heart.’’ Possible completion dates will be included in the Dec. 9 presentation, she said.
Pollack also said she did not have a target price tag in mind.
“We have not set a particular target for the costs, nor do we have … a new construction schedule, because there’s a lot to do,’’ she said. “I think the goal is to bring the costs down as far as we can and, I think, find … additional revenue potential.’’
The long-anticipated transit project has seen several delays and cost increases since 2005. The most recent increase bumped a $2 billion estimate from late last year to as high as $3 billion in a matter of months, launching the ongoing review process. Officials have said that under a worst case scenario, the legally mandated project could be canceled.
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