Green Line

Another perspective on why the Green Line procurement method was a mistake

Pioneer Institute: “MBTA Experiment Gone Wrong! The Green Line Extension Contract”

“The first and most obvious issue with the use of the CM/GC procurement method for the Green Line Extension is that a guaranteed price was not included as a component of the bidding process.  White Skanska Kiewit (WSK) was awarded the CM/GC contract before the design had been completed.  This eliminated any form of meaningful price competition from the procurement process, resulting in the cost overrun catastrophe the MBTA faces today.”

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Green Line

Gov. Baker supports Green Line, but not at this price tag

WGBH: “Governor Baker On Green Line Extension: ‘There’s Something That’s Not Right Here'”

“I am a supporter of this project. I am not a supporter of it if it’s going to cost 3 billion dollars….I think a lot of people in Massachusetts would question whether or not, in fact, we should spend $3 billion on four miles. It’s not even below ground. There’s something about this that’s not right.”

Baker said he hoped to have a “complete answer” from the MBTA and the control board on the cost overruns by Thanksgiving.

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Green Line

A Better City supports the Green Line extension

“ABC’s Perspective: Green Line Extension”

logo2“The bottom line, though, is that this project must proceed. It is critical for the region’s economy and has the potential to significantly reduce travel times (by as much as 75%) in the area. Moreover, the project will ensure that over 70% of residents in the area are within walking distance of a transit station, up from less than 20% today. If this project is put back on the shelf, we also risk sending a horrible signal to the federal government regarding future funding opportunities. This project leverages significant New Starts funding, and those resources are not something we can afford to throw away. The Commonwealth, working with all partners who have a stake in this project, needs to do what it can to reduce the project costs. However, we then must identify funding to cover the remaining gap to move forward with this critical transportation improvement.”

(A Better City is a nonprofit membership organization that provides the business and institutional leadership essential for ensuring progress and tangible results on transportation, land development, and public realm infrastructure investments.)

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Green Line

Boston Globe on the problematic Green Line process

“Process blamed for Green Line project’s soaring cost”

“Officials say the T will seek an outside audit to discover why the estimates have gone up so quickly. But critics say they have the answer: a contracting process that allows the company that’s building the Green Line to name a maximum price at each stage of construction, instead of agreeing to a fixed price.

Under the “construction manager/general contractor” process currently being used, the T chooses companies to design and build the projects based largely on their expertise proven by other past projects. Once the companies are selected, the project is then broken up into phases, and the construction company is allowed to name a maximum price for construction with each phase.”

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Green Line

Transportation board urged to move forward with Green Line

Boston Globe: “Green Line extension supporters urge state not to drop project”

“Supporters of the long-anticipated project to extend the Green Line into Somerville and Medford urged the state transportation board Wednesday to seek new contractors for portions of the job to cut the cost, even if it causes more delays.”

Boston Herald: “Green Line expansion backers urge revival”

“The Green Line Extension, plain and simple, is the most important infrastructure transit project in the commonwealth today and in generations, because of the environmental benefits and the economic opportunities for the entire commonwealth,” said Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone.

Somerville Patch: “Mayor Curtatone Pushing to Revive Green Line Extension Project”

“In addition to Curtatone, several other local lawmakers and community leaders spoke out in favor of the project….The MBTA says they hope to have a plan addressing the cost overruns by December of this year.”

MassLive: “State grapples with rising cost of expanding MBTA’s Green Line into Somerville, Medford”

“My question is, where do we come up with the money?” asked Dean Mazzarella, the mayor of Leominster and a member of the MassDOT board of directors.

DePaola said several options are on the table, including downsizing, delaying or eliminating a maintenance and storage facility (saving up to $149 million); creating more “Spartan” stations (up to $40 million in savings); and downsizing, delaying or eliminating a community path extension (up to $28 million).

Transportation officials could also move to reallocate $158 million meant for a future Route 16 extension, and delay that project.

DePaola said the Green Line extension is still considered a “good project,” but they have to weigh all of the options, inviting comments from the public.

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Green Line

Why is the Green Line estimate so much higher than other projects around the country?

Check out this comparison by Ari Ofsevit of the costs of various transit expansion projects around the country. When you look at the overall cost per mile, the Green Line extension looks irrationally high. Important note: Every project is unique, so it’s very difficult to compare these kinds of costs apples to apples. But it’s worth a look.

In addition, read this great piece from The Transport Politic, also covering light rail construction costs and comparing multiple projects. When the Green Line cost estimate was at $700 million to $1 billion, it was in line with other US light rail projects being designed (in costs per mile). But still, like most all US projects, more expensive than similar European light rail projects. Now, at $2 to $3+ billion, the GLX is in the per-mile cost category for a subway system, not surface rail!

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Green Line

Add your voice to the chorus demanding the Green Line!

If you believe the Green Line extension is important to Somerville’s future, this is the time to send your comments to Mass DOT and the FCMB. Send emails to and by this Wednesday, Sept 9, for maximum impact. Also note that both the Sept 9 Mass DOT and FMCB meetings will have an extended time period for public comments.

Make sure your voice is heard. The more people they hear from, the more they’ll pay attention. Looking for talking points? Here’s STEP’s position on how to move forward with the Green Line extension.

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Green Line

The entire Green Line extension must be built. Here’s STEP’s position on how to move forward.

GLXlogoThe Green Line extension will be built. It must be built. Not only because it’s a legal commitment as part of the Big Dig and Clean Air Act, but because it is a critical regional transportation project that will increase transit accessibility, reduce travel time, improve air quality, and promote significant economic development and employment.

The benefits have been proven again and again.

  • The GLX will increase access to rapid transit in Somerville from currently 15% of residents living within a half mile of a transit station to 80%. It will also serve residents/commuters of Medford and East Arlington.
  •  The GLX will provide transit access for a large environmental justice population in East Somerville, Union Square, Winter Hill, and around Route 16 who currently must use unreliable and often infrequent bus service. Rapid transit via a GLX station will increase access to jobs and will reduce air pollution exposure.
  • City planning for housing and employment density around the planned stations is addressing the Commonwealth’s goals in promoting economic growth and housing. We cannot move backward.

The Costs

Although real costs of construction projects are increasing, this doesn’t account for the GLX $1 billion overall increase.

The GLX cost increases are mainly the result of scope changes to the project. Such changes include:

  • Building the Lechmere station, which was originally to be paid for by the North Point developer
  • Enhanced designs of the stations, which were originally envisioned as more simple stops
  • The maintenance facility
  • More complex utility work and drainage issues that were not initially known

Here’s another piece of the puzzle: Because the Construction Manager/General Contractor (CM/GC) bidding system allows only one bidder rather than competing bidders, the contractor has no incentive to keep costs down. And so the estimate climbs.

Our improved regional economic climate makes it more challenging to get competitive construction bids. This trend is industry-wide in Massachusetts and is particularly challenging in the Boston area. And so the estimate climbs.

Given all of these frustrating factors, here’s our take: The Green Line extension must be built, and we would accept further delays on the project in order for the contract to be re-bid in the hopes of bringing down costs. 

Further delays are disappointing but might be necessary. A delay in the GLX project is acceptable for rebidding purposes, but during this period work must continue on value engineering and/or downsizing appropriate elements of remaining contracts. Mass DOT’s project leadership must explore ways to cut costs and avoid future cost increases for the next three steps (contracts) in the construction process, and not just focus on the current IGMP #4.

During delays, we recommend prioritizing work on the Fitchburg commuter rail to reduce cost increases and conflicts with GLX construction. Mass DOT’s project leadership could look to other transit systems for safe and cost-effective approaches to managing this work.

What’s Negotiable?

  • Delay the GLX completion to resolve the cost control problems from CM/GC contracting.
  • Revisit station design enhancements from what was first proposed in 2005. At that time, the stations were envisioned as simple Riverside Line-style stations with at-grade access. Subsequently, the designs grew to more expensive staffed head-houses with a central platform, redundant elevators, and escalators.
  • Delay and downsize the maintenance facility and redesign the expensive and complicated track configuration to the facility. The maintenance facility was not part of the Artery Consent decree.
  • Consider some revenue-capture strategies that do not overburden the communities.

We propose that creative ideas for costs savings submitted by the public to the FCMB should be met by the general contractor to double the cost reduction.

What’s Non-Negotiable?

  • We do not accept elimination of any planned stations, including the Route 16 station, which will serve Medford, Somerville, and East Arlington.
  • We do not accept elimination of the Community Path, which will provide safe, primary pedestrian and bicycle access to stations for residents. It will also connect the Minuteman Bikeway to the paths along the Charles River, thus linking a network of approximately 48 miles of continuous bike/ped path.

The entire Green Line extension must be built. Let’s move forward together.

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Green Line

Editorials and letters take on the Green Line extension and Community Path

Cambridge Chronicle: “Editorial: Moving forward with the Green Line Extension”

“The benefits of a more connected metro area that encourages greater tourism and commerce, links employers and employees, creates more housing and reduces pollution are worth it. The Chicken Littles fearful of cost overruns, many of whom live outside the metro area, can’t look beyond their own backyards. They shouldn’t drive the conversation around a project that will ultimately make the state stronger.”

Boston Herald: “Astrue: Green Line woes echo Big Dig’s”

“Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack should send a strong signal to the state’s contractors by making it clear to the MBTA Board that it should fire the Green Line extension project’s general contractor, White Skanska Kiewit. You simply can’t expect the firm that got us into this mess to be objective about the hard choices the department must now make. It’s a clear conflict of economic interests.”

Somerville Journal: “Letter: Community Path will not be a waste”

“The Community Path is only a small part of the total cost of the Green Line project, yet is one of the most cost-effective pieces of it (and would be much more expensive to build after the fact than as part of the Green Line Extension project.) It will provide neighborhood access to four of the seven stations and will double as emergency egress for two of the stations. It saves millions by not having to build parking garages. More importantly, it is a key link in a regional network multi-use paths. The MAPC estimates that 3 million people per year will use the Community Path when completed.”

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Green Line

WGBH: MBTA Board would like third party to review Green Line estimates

“MBTA Board Wants 3rd-Party Review Of Green Line Extension Cost Overruns”

Board member Steven Poftak wants a neutral third-party authority to answer why construction costs rose so dramatically between January and May of this year and even if the current projections can be trusted. “What went wrong here and what changed so radically from the beginning to the end, I think, is really important for us to have any confidence in this going forward.”

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