Fateful meeting looms for Green Line extension

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2016/05/06/fateful-meeting-looms-for-green-line-extension/

BOSTON – The fate of the cost-burdened Green Line Extension depends in large part on the new budget that will be presented to transportation overseers at a meeting Monday.

Last August, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack paused the trolley line extension to Somerville and Medford, warning that the prior cost estimate of $1.99 billion had jumped by between $700 million and $1 billion.

Since then transportation officials have labored with stakeholders to reduce the scale of the seven-station endeavor. According to the Somerville Journal, a pared-down version of the trolley extension would reduce the cost by $280 million.

On Thursday, Somerville and Cambridge pledged an “unprecedented” contribution of $75 million combined to the project, and Boston’s Metropolitan Planning Organization shifted about $190 million into construction of the line leading out to Tufts University.

Pollack declined Friday to say whether the new revenue and the cost reductions would be enough.

“We’re not going to be saying anything about what we think the new cost estimate is until Monday,” Pollack told the News Service after a Cabinet meeting. She said “no decision” has been made about whether transportation staff would recommend a course of action or merely present information to the overseers.

Transportation officials in December calculated $380 million expended already on the roughly 4.5-mile extension and said the state could expect to pay more than $700 million in “sunk costs” for the project.

A clean-air requirement stemming from the Big Dig project that buried Interstate 93 through downtown Boston and brought highway out to Logan airport, the Green Line Extension has been the brass ring of infrastructure investment for Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone. A little less than two years ago, Somerville celebrated the opening of the first MBTA subway station in 27 years in the city’s Assembly Square neighborhood, the Orange Line station being the result of a combination of financial commitments from public and private entities.

After announcing that Somerville would contribute $50 million to the Green Line project, Curtatone told the News Service the “unprecedented and extraordinary” offer of municipal dollars is “necessary” for the project to move forward and he is “optimistic” that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board will move ahead with it.

“They’ll make a call,” said Curtatone, who plans to be at Monday’s meeting.

Curtatone hopes to work with the Baker administration on some creative financing schemes. Somerville’s tax levy is about $129 million, while the Cambridge tax levy is about $354 million, according to city officials.

The surprise increase in the estimated cost of the Green Line Extension and the policy question of whether and how to move forward with it have become major focuses of the control board Gov. Charlie Baker assigned to oversee the T after significant winter service failures.

After the joint-meeting of the boards on the fate of the Green Line Extension project, the Cambridge City Council plans to take up the issue at its meeting Monday evening.

Cambridge City Manager Richard Rossi wrote to the council the $25 million from the city and from the developers of North Point, which is located near the current East Cambridge terminus of the Green Line, would be limited to construction within Cambridge. Planning to achieve a final agreement with the state and the MBTA by Sept. 30, Rossi also indicated the city should be spared if less money is needed.

“In the event that the Cambridge City Council and the North Point developers approve this funding and the project costs turn out to be less than anticipated at this juncture, I also expect the City of Cambridge to be relieved of a portion of that funding commitment in a fair and proportional manner,” Rossi wrote.

Rossi wrote, “To my knowledge, never before has a municipality or group of municipalities in Massachusetts been asked to assume a portion of the cost of a large infrastructure project. Traditionally the state and federal governments have worked together to fund these projects, and to address cost overruns, with an understanding that municipalities in Massachusetts have a limited ability under Massachusetts law to raise new revenue or to dedicate local funding to costs outside of routine municipal services such as education, public safety, public health, and local infrastructure.”

The cost and scope of the Green Line Extension project is on the agenda for a 1 p.m. meeting Monday of the MassDOT and MBTA Fiscal and Management Control boards at 10 Park Plaza in Boston.

Written by Andy Metzger