Somerville Mayor Curtatone tells Aldermen GLX ‘will be built’

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Written by Andy Metzger

SOMERVILLE — Somerville’s Board of Aldermen appears ready to line up behind Mayor Joe Curtatone as he outlines a path of cooperation with the state and new financing schemes to keep the Green Line Extension on track.

On Monday, state transportation officials disclosed that the contractors’ cost estimate for building the first three stations on the long-delayed project led them to believe the cost of the trolley line extension could be $1 billion higher than previously estimated.

When the board meets next, it plans to take up a joint resolution endorsing the mayor’s approach, which is to work with the Baker administration to pare down costs and seek additional revenue sources from the expected economic boom that would follow the new stations.

At a meeting Thursday, William White, the president of the board, voiced some skepticism that the costs would not lead to further delays, though Curtatone said the push back from 2017 to 2018 of early station openings is unrelated to the cost increase.

Curtatone’s plans for developer contributions and other financing methods, which are still fuzzy, also drew some concern.

“We shouldn’t have to mortgage our future to make sure this project comes to Somerville,” said Alderwoman Rebekah Gewirtz.

The extension of the trolley line that leads into the heart of Boston and then extends out of the city has been a defining goal of Curtatone’s tenure in office. The city used a variety of financing methods currently contemplated for the Green Line Extension to build an Orange Line stop in the city’s new Assembly Square neighborhood.

“It will be built,” Curtatone told the aldermen Thursday night, citing the $1 billion promised from the Federal Transit Administration and the roughly $300 million already spent. The state also has an obligation from a Conservation Law Foundation settlement to build it. Curtatone said, “The state has been a good partner with us . . . They want to do this project. It’s not a question of legalities.”

Curtatone said any substantial alteration to the project – such as scrapping any of the seven stations – is unlikely because it would require going back to the Federal Transit Administration, which has already pledged $1 billion.

That news was a source of relief for Alderwoman Maryann Heuston, who said, “The first thing that came to my mind was . . . holy crap they’re going to take that spur to Union Square.”

Speaking to reporters, Curtatone also said removal of a community path extension from the project could potentially trigger the need to go back to the FTA and he said the path will likely remain part of the project even as state transportation officials seek to scale down the scope to reduce the cost.

The path would serve as both an emergency escape route and provide travel along the trolley tracks for bicyclists and walkers.

Curtatone also said he couldn’t yet estimate how much could be raised through developer contributions and the potential sequestration of tax revenues that could be generated by the project.

As recently as about a year ago, the Patrick administration pegged the cost of the project and the requisite new trolley cars at about $1.4 billion. Following additional study, information from the FTA and the estimate from the selected builder, the high end estimated by the Baker administration is now about $3 billion.

At Thursday’s meeting, Gewirtz, who is not running for re-election this year, initially proposed a resolution from the aldermen supporting the mayor in “his efforts to fight for this project.”

“I think it’s important to say we’re working with the governor,” Curtatone said regarding the resolution.

Copyright State House News Service