DeLeo hopeful state won’t ‘completely abandon’ GLX project

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STATE HOUSE — Though MBTA officials refuse to take the option of shutting down the Green Line extension project off the table, House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Tuesday said he didn’t think the state could “completely abandon” the 4.7-mile trolley project, even if that requires cutting back on new stations.

The cost of the Green Line extension from Cambridge through Somerville and into Medford has ballooned with estimates climbing $1 billion above the recent $2 billion price tag. DeLeo, in an interview on Boston Herald Radio Tuesday morning, said he trusts that Gov. Charlie Baker and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack are “honestly trying to find a solution to make something happen.”

“I think we’re probably going to see some type of compromise. I don’t think we can abandon the project altogether,” DeLeo said. “On the same token, I’m not sure we can go as far as we wanted to or we would have liked because as you probably have seen there have been some issues relative to our bonding capacity right now, so I think we have to be careful about that.”

Pollack has not ruled out cancelling the public transit expansion project, but officials are also considering ways to rebid the project to get a lower price and possibly scaling back on some elements of the extension.

At a meeting of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board earlier this month, one consultant hired by the T suggested reducing the scale of the project to save on construction costs, including the possible sheering of a spur on the trolley line that is slated to bring the Green Line trolley into Somerville’s popular Union Square.

DeLeo, who dropped by Downtown Crossing later Tuesday morning to ring the bell for the Salvation Army’s holiday red kettle fundraising drive, clarified what he meant when he suggested not going as “far” with the Green Line extension project.

“Probably less stations,” The Winthrop Democrat said. “I mean that’s just an option. I’d rather see something rather than nothing. Now I didn’t get that from the secretary of transportation or the administration or the Senate president. I just felt that if we have some money to spend then instead of just scrapping the whole project, let’s try to see what we can keep viable and maybe some of the important stops in terms of usage, maybe we can get those done.”

On WGBH last week, MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola said trimming stations from the project would put a $1 billion federal grant in jeopardy.

“The definition of the grant that we got from the Federal Transit Administration specifically defines the scope of the project they were funding, so if we were to truncate the project at a shorter distance or to eliminate a number of stations we would invalidate the grant that we currently have and we would have to reapply,” DePaola said. “Not that that’s impossible, but that would expose us to not having access to that billion dollars of federal matching money.”

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone has described the current blueprint for the Green Line Extension as critical to unlocking the economic development opportunities in neighborhoods in his city that have been preparing for the public transit expansion, including Union Square.

DeLeo said he has spoken with Baker and the governor’s chief of staff about the GLX project, but not Pollack.

— Written by Matt Murphy

[Antonio Caban and Andy Metzger contributed reporting]

Copyright State House News Service