Rolling up our sleeves to get the Green Line back on track
This week, the MassDOT and MBTA Fiscal Management and Control Boards drew a line in the sand about the Green Line Extension (GLX). They said that the GLX should move forward only if these three conditions are met, and we agree with every single one:
- The project needs to be redesigned to reduce cost substantially while maintaining core functionality.
In recent years, the station designs became unnecessarily elaborate, and way too much money went toward nice-to-have’s like a an outsized Green Line maintenance facility. We must focus on the core functionality: creating basic GLX stations at every planned stop and building the Community Path, for station access and egress, ADA-compliance, and a safe bicycle and pedestrian route for users of all ages and abilities.
- The State needs to start over on the procurement process in order to obtain a reliable cost estimate.
Using an unproven procurement method for the GLX was a mistake from the start, and it’s worthwhile to return to a process where the risks may be better known and costs may be more controllable. Even though this means a delay in the project, it’s the right thing to do and will most likely save money.
- The MBTA needs new project management to do this job right.
Project leadership more experienced in costing the project and contract management are needed across MassDOT and the MBTA. It’s time to find the best people for this very important and long overdue service and legal obligation.
The two boards also said that they won’t commit any further funding than the roughly one billion dollars already promised by the State. In other words, the GLX has to stick to its earlier budget estimate (at least $2 billion) before these recent outrageous estimates (up to $3 billion) came in. However, we must note that the early cost estimates did not include paying for a new Lechmere Station, nor anticipate many of the utility related costs and the complexity of dealing with the Miller’s River, another long-unmet legal obligation of the MBTA.
Our Goals to Get the GLX Built
While we are very frustrated at how the State got into this mess, we are eager to get to work as part of the solution.
- MassDOT and the MBTA need to engage with the community on the GLX regardless of the exact answers. You can fire the outrageously expensive contractors. You can replace the MBTA project management. But the community is here to stay. We’ve been working on the GLX longer than most people on the project team. We are taxpayers, we understand trade-offs, and we have advocated all along that we get the most benefit for every dollar spent. We know what’s most critical to be core functionality. We’re your biggest allies for making this work.
- Identify potential revenue sources. The boards said it’s time for Somerville, other cities, the Boston MPO, developers, and other stakeholders to step in with real funding. We’re not sure how realistic the boards’ position is on new revenue sources, but we agree that all ideas should be on the table. The ultimate solution will need to reduce costs and find more revenue, and it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get creative. For example, why is it that I-93 drivers get free access to Boston, when other major routes pay reasonable tolls? Do the math and figure out what kind of revenue something like this would bring in.
What We Don’t Want
The only other option is to cancel the GLX altogether, which is ludicrous.
- If we cancel or alter the project substantially, Massachusetts throws away a $1 billion federal grant. Can you imagine how wasteful this would be?
- We’d also be throwing away $750 million of Massachusetts’ taxpayer investment that’s already been spent or committed, with nothing to show for it.
- Remember that the GLX is a legal commitment under the Clean Air Act. Trying to find true substitutions for the same clean air benefits would be unaffordable and would make costly lawsuits inevitable.
- Finally, we can’t cancel the GLX because of its huge air quality, health, and economic benefits for the community which is most overrun by polluting highway traffic and diesel commuter rail. As such, we’ve made huge personal sacrifice for the benefit of world-class economies next door in Boston and Cambridge. We desperately need clean transit, with integrated walking and biking provided by the Community Path as part of the GLX, to support our long-suffering citizens, local job development, and a more sustainable future.
Somerville has already paid for the GLX. We have paid with decades of poor public transit service in the Massachusetts city with the greatest population density per square mile. We have been paying since the Commonwealth ripped apart our neighborhoods to build I-93 and knowingly introduced serious air pollution burdens that significantly impact the health of our population today. We’ve paid by enduring this project’s mismanagement and perpetual delays.
If anything, we are more determined than ever to build the Green Line Extension, and this time do it smarter. Let’s roll up our sleeves, get to work and get it right.