Somerville, Cambridge leaders to push for city funding for Green Line extension

The path of the Green Line extension in Somerville.
The path of the Green Line extension in Somerville. –Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Somerville and Cambridge leaders say they will push their city councils to bridge an expected funding gap for the MBTA’s Green Line extension, ahead of a likely Monday vote on whether to continue the project. Meanwhile Thursday, the state sought to move further federal funding toward the the beleaguered but long-awaited project.

In a dual statement, Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone and Cambridge City Manager Richard Rossi said they are willing to have their cities chip in a combined $75 million for the project.

A revised plan for the project, which has been under state review since its quickly ballooning budget was revealed last year, is expected to include a request for cities hosting the rail extension to contribute to its funding, they wrote.

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“Based on that understanding,” Curtatone and Rossi said, “we are prepared to make a recommendation that our municipalities assist the state in the funding solution for this project.”

Somerville would offer $50 million, and Cambridge $25 million, according to the statement. That would include money contributed from real estate developers around Cambridge’s Lechmere Station, which would be reworked as part of the project.

Curtatone and Rossi said they will recommend that their communities’ respective City Council and Board of Aldermen approve the municipal funding, and the funding will require that approval.

The Green Line extension’s future has been in question since August, when officials revealed its previous $2 billion budget was on pace to run as high as $3 billion. After looking back at where things went wrong, the T began a redesign over the winter intended to get costs back in line with the prior budget.

As part of the process, the state said any costs over the $2 billion figure — which would be equally split between the state and federal governments — would need to come from elsewhere, like the municipalities, developers, or the feds. The state would only provide additional money if it helped unlock significantly more in federal funding, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said last winter.

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A new budget has not yet been released, but is expected to be unveiled at Monday’s joint meeting of the T’s control board and the state Department of Transportation’s board. A decision on the extension’s future is also expected then. But the action Thursday suggests the redesign will present a budget above $2 billion, requiring some outside help.

The state also made headway in putting more federal funds toward the gap on Thursday.

The Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization began the process of putting $152 million in federal money toward the project at the request of state transportation officials.

Rafael Mares, a transit advocate and a vice president at the Conservation Law Foundation, said that money was intended for an eventual station further in Medford along Route 16. The state has said it does not need to build that station, and it is not included in current designs for the project. Mares said the MPO did not finalize the movement of those funds on Thursday, and such action would require further review and a later vote.

Pollack said in an emailed statement that the T and MassDOT “have worked closely with numerous municipal stakeholders and requested that additional financing opportunities be explored.”

“MassDOT appreciates the collaboration by Cambridge, Somerville, and the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization throughout this process and look forward to further discussion of the redesign and its cost with the boards next week,” she said.

Mares, whose organization’s legal action against the MBTA has pushed the project forward, praised the city contributions in an emailed statement.

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“This transit project is of great importance not only to both of these municipalities, but also the region and the state,” he said. “As such, we expect that the MBTA and MassDOT will decide to move forward with the extension without further delay.”

Curtatone and Rossi said without the financial commitments from their cities, they believed the extension would be canceled and the state would forfeit a near-billion dollar federal grant, as well as an estimated $700 million in “sunk costs” already spent by the state.

“Additionally, the fulfillment of the public needs that this project was designed to meet would remain unrealized,” Curtatone and Rossi said.

The further approval may not be a done deal. In January, some Somerville aldermen told Tufts Daily that they did not feel the city should have to pay for the project.

“Somerville’s been screwed for generations on transportation. … We shouldn’t have to pay a cent for this; we deserve this,” Alderman Mark Niedergang said.

“I can tell you that I’d be one of the many that would be vehemently opposed to any and all participation from the city point of view,” added Alderman Jack Connolly.

Those officials and others could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

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