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Residents get important Green Line updates at public meeting

GLXWorkingGroup_020516The Green Line Extension Working Group met yesterday for the first time in a long time, getting updates from the head of the MBTA and the interim project manager of the GLX. Despite the snow, about 100 residents joined the meeting in support of the project. A few highlights:

  • The goal of the new project team is to try to reduce the scope of the GLX in order to bring it back down to the $2 billion currently budgeted. (Here’s the team.)
  • John Karn of ARUP summarized the areas being explored to cut costs (view the presentation), including:
    • Lowell cross section: slim down the right-of-way area and potentially cut the Community Path (something STEP finds unacceptable).
    • Stations: redesign stations to be “smaller, more spartan but functional,” which STEP supports. Unfortunately, that might also include redesigning station access and egress, which could negatively impact the Community Path.
    • Union Square: consider alternatives for this stop, such as a commuter rail stop or bus service – not at all acceptable.
    • Viaducts: reduce their size, mass, and number (which might also include cutting the Community Path).
    • Maintenance facility: make it much smaller and simpler.
    • Schedule/productivity: work off-peak hours and shut down the commuter rail to save time and money.
  • We finally got to see cost estimates for various components of this project, including Lechmere station ($72 million in contractor bid), Union Square station ($40M), Washington station ($50M), and more. (Here’s the detailed spreadsheet.)
  • There will be multiple public meetings to involve the community in this process between now and May, when the team’s report is due to the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB). (Here’s their schedule.)

Below are detailed notes from our friends at MGNA

INTRODUCTION

This was the first Working Group meeting since the project was put on pause due to the projected cost escalation, and a new project team was installed to fully re-examine the project to determine whether it still will be built, and in what form. Chairperson Doug Carr said the Working Group was eager to be engaged in the process and offer its input and expertise, noting that many of the members have been involved with the project for 10 years or longer.

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Green Line public meeting this Friday!

The Green Line Extension Project Working Group will meet this Friday morning from 10-12 to hear from the state:

  • Where things stand right now, including next steps and timelines
  • Preliminary redesign concepts – an early peek at some of the options they’re exploring to bring down costs
  • Project budget overview

Please come to show support for the Green Line! There will be time for public comment, so make sure your voice is heard as we fight for a Green Line Extension will full functionality to serve our community. Meeting details.

If you want to catch up with the key documents before the meeting, here are some highlights:

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Congressman Capuano warns against cutting Green Line too much, losing federal funding

“Green Line project cuts could threaten federal funding, Capuano says” (Boston Globe)

Capuano“Congressman Michael Capuano said that if the state cuts the proposed Green Line extension too deeply it could threaten the project’s nearly $1 billion in federal funding.

‘Any changes to the Green Line that would jeopardize federal money are unacceptable as far as I am concerned,’ Capuano said in an interview Tuesday.”

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Editorial: “We’ve already paid for the GLX”

By William C. Shelton

Some high-profile advocates argue that the Green Line Extension should be built because it will stimulate economic and housing development. The mayor is telling regional media and policy makers that the GLX will lead to 30,000 new Somerville jobs and 10,000 new homes. Yes, 10,000!

Indeed, increased commercial-tax-revenue and jobs are essential reasons why we need it. But the Green Line should be extended through Somerville for a more compelling reason: justice. Read more from the Somerville Times.

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Board funds project to reestimate and redesign Green Line Extension

“Board OKs $6M to study stalled Green Line plan” (Boston Herald)

“The panel yesterday approved deals with three firms that will redesign the project and come up with a new price tag for it, T General Manager Frank DePaola said yesterday after the meeting. DePaola hopes firms under contract will bring costs down $1 billion to its initial budget of $1.99 billion for the 4.7-mile extension.

‘We’re looking to cut a billion (dollars) out,’ DePaola said. ‘The idea would be to get back to the original budget. … We’re trying to get as close as we can, and then see, if we have a remainder, what the gap is, and what our options are in finding funding for that.'”

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Officials present 90-day Green Line plan, suggest big cuts

“Severe cuts due in Green Line project” (Boston Globe)

“The head of the board that oversees the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority says that cutbacks to the Green Line extension will have to be ‘on the side of brutal,’ as officials seek to cut costs for the troubled project.

‘This has to be a bare minimum system in order to get to a point financially where we’re making a minimum ask to third parties,’ Joseph Aiello, chairman of the fiscal control board, said Wednesday during a monthly meeting of the state transportation board.”

“Officials suggest major changes in store for Green Line project” (State House News Service)

“Wright said it would be important to differentiate between the ‘essential’ and ‘nice’ aspects of the 4.7-mile plan to add trolley alongside existing commuter rail tracks. Fundamental changes to the scope of the project could violate the grant agreement with the Federal Transit Administration, which plans to contribute $1 billion, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said last year.”

Download the draft 90-day plan that was presented.

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Green Line consultant report unsealed, revealing incompetence

The Secretary of State ordered the MBTA to release a sealed consultant’s report on the botched Green Line extension, and the results are as frustrating as you might expect. MassDOT, the MBTA, and the firm they hired to manage the project ignored multiple signs that the project cost would vastly increase.

Although the MBTA tends to get a lot of blame, remember that the Green Line Extension always was and still remains a MassDOT responsibility, that the early estimates by VHB were the furthest from reality, that MassDOT was a full participant in coming up with the screwy contract structure which they sold to the state legislators as likely to produce a cheaper project with faster completion, that MassDOT and the MBTA and the MassDOT Board were aware of the cost discrepancies as far back as the Full Funding Grant application to FTA and did not move to reconcile them, and that the MassDOT Board was in charge of this all along until very recent creation of the FMCB.

View the Green Line Look Back Study from the Berkeley Research Group.

“Signs of Green Line extension costs ignored” (Boston Globe)

“The report noted that the MBTA and HDR/Gilbane, the firm hired to manage the project, relied on HDR/Gilbane’s budget estimates, despite signs that the numbers were probably unreliable….The report found many flaws in the MBTA’s management of the project: Essentially, the MBTA did not fully understand the contracting process – called ‘construction manager/general contractor’ – that it used.

The MBTA and HDR/Gilbane also didn’t follow best practices with regard to the contracting process, which would have forced White-Skanska-Kiewit to be more transparent regarding the costs for its work, the report said. As a result, the MBTA wasn’t able to evaluate whether the costs from White-Skanska-Kiewit were reasonable or appropriate.”

“Report: MBTA knew two years ago about Green Line ext. overruns” (CommonWealth Magazine)

“But the biggest share of the blame pie was reserved for the MBTA and its project manager. In a chart of eight critical areas, the report said the T and HDR/Gilbane came up short in all eight categories, including not understanding the bidding process they championed. The chart faults Stanton Constructability Services, the independent cost estimator, in three areas, including responsibility for cost overruns. White Skanska, the chief contractor on the project, failed in one area, budget reliability.”

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Green Line plan coming in April

“MBTA Update: Decision On Green Line Extension Likely This Spring, A Bit Of Good Budget News”  (WBUR)

“MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola told the T’s fiscal control board during a meeting on Monday that the agency plans to have a scaled-down project design and a new budget estimate ready by April 7.

DePaola said the agency would then create a new finance plan by May 6, with a discussion on next steps expected at the May 11 joint meeting of the T’s control board and the board of the state’s Department of Transportation.”

“The Green Line extension’s fate could be decided this spring” (Boston.com)

“The project redesign will help form the basis of a new cost estimate, and the new budget will inform the new funding plan, DePaola said.

‘We need to revisit our designs and develop a project that incorporates those scope reductions,’ he said. ‘And we need to develop a revised cost estimate reflecting those scope … reduction items, so we can bring that forward in front of the board and developing a funding plan.'”

“Green Line extension project gets new leader” (Boston Globe)

“Jack Wright, a former state transportation official now at Weston and Sampson, an engineering consulting firm, will oversee an interim leadership team that will redesign the project to cut costs and find new ways to contract out the work.”

Check out the slides DePaola presented today.

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Green Line cost estimate is crazy high

“Green Line project could be priciest effort for MBTA” (Boston Globe)

“Based on a $3 billion overall price tag, the 4.7-mile project would cost $642 million per mile. That would be significantly higher than the reported costs of four other major extension projects, a Globe analysis found.”

“The Green Line extension’s price tag is also high when compared with other similar projects around the nation, according to a recent analysis by the Arup Group, a consulting firm the T recently retained to help find ways to reduce the project’s cost.”

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What was in the federal agreement for Green Line funding?

Over a year ago, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) pledged $996.1 million in “New Starts” grant funds for the design and construction of the Green Line Extension. While we and many others fight for the Green Line, it’s important to know exactly what’s in that federal agreement – in part, to make sure our state doesn’t throw away that kind of money.

Through a request using the Freedom of Information Act, we have obtained the Full Funding Grant Agreement between the FTA and MBTA, dated October 2014. It includes information on project cost estimates and project schedules at the time. Check it out.

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