Transit commitments meeting summary
MBTA General Manager Mike Mulhern and DEP Commissioner Robert Golledge led a public hearing on state transit commitments on November 22, where they answered questions about plans to revisit obligations like the Green Line extension.
The meeting summary below was written by Wig Zamore….
This is an informal and admittedly incomplete report on the transit commitments meeting held last week with MBTA General Manager Mike Mulhern and DEP Commissioner Robert Golledge. As you all know, the MBTA and state have stopped additional funding of the transit commitments that are yet to be undertaken – see the current Capital Investment Program – in violation of both the Artery transit commitments settlement and Clean Air Act agreements with the Federal government.
Besides myself, Ellin Reisner, Lawrence Paolella, Lynn McWhood, Pat Jehlen, and Tuck O’Brien were there from Somerville – perhaps others as well. Bob Feigin – Medford community leader – was there and reported that they will work hard to organize outreach for December 14th.
The meeting was convened by Bob Tuchman, environmental attorney at Hale and Dorr and long-time Artery Environmental Oversight Committee leader. Bob introduced the two speakers and also framed many of the questions as the meeting went on, stressing the need for public pressure to be brought to bear on the state legislature for additional transit funding. (See paraphrase of Representative Jehlen’s comments below.)
Mike Mulhern described the Ozone State Implementation Plan commitments. Those that have been met – such as park and ride facilities. Those which are in process – such as Greenbush commuter rail, Blue Line station improvements and the filing of an Urban Ring Draft Environmental Impact Report. And those which have simply not been met – including Arborway restoration, the Red / Blue connector, 18 new Orange Line cars, and the Green Line extension through Somerville.
Bob Golledge explained that DEP is going to lead a process to review both the transit commitments and the rules which apply to them. December 14th at the state house will be the first public meeting to discuss that process. Commissioner Golledge did not know what the agenda would be, how many additional meetings might be held or where they might be. He said he hoped to complete the review within 6 months but was not sure that would be possible. He explained that he had sent a “non-compliance” letter to the Executive Office of Transportation a year ago and that he would soon be communicating EOT’s continuing failure to comply with the transit commitments.
Boston residents asked the first and last questions from the audience but the rest of the discussion at the transit commitments meeting focused on Somerville and the Green Line extension. Just FYI, Franklin Salimbene – long time Arborway activist – led off the questioning by expressing concern at the evaporation of the public process on the Arborway, stating that the Citizens’ Advisory Committee has not met for many months even though the MBTA is proceeding with preparation of environmental documents. Mr. Mulhern responded that there are serious feasibility issues that the technical team must address and that he personally had been to more Jamaica Plain meetings than any other service area, by far. Others at the meeting generally believed it important to include the public in the transit process and to tie that to progress.
To jump ahead a little, the next to last question focused on the need for a Science Park station upgrade, which Mr. Mulhern agreed with. The last question – or nearly so – was from a handicapped woman who lives in the North End of Boston and must ride the MBTA. She expressed disappointment that Boston activists were not as evident as those from Somerville and a large degree of outrage that the transit commitments were not being met, including specifically the new Orange Line cars. She stated that it was simply not acceptable to find $15 billion for the Central Artery and Turnpike project … and to come up so short on the transit commitments that are a parallel legal obligation.
As to the Somerville portion of the meeting.
Ellin Reisner had taken the time to produce, and place on seats, 100 handouts showing a chart and simple data focused on our metropolitan area public health impacts – excess lung cancer and heart attack deaths – from regional air pollution. As this was the only handout at the meeting, it had a great effect on many opinion leaders in the audience.
I was the first Somerville resident to speak at the meeting and I questioned whether the state executive agencies, who had failed over the last 14 years to arrange to deliver the transit commitments, should be in charge of correcting the shortfall. I then laid out Somerville’s transportation and public health burdens – tying them to 2000 recent EPA and other studies – and the need to get cracking on the Green Line extension. Mike Mulhern seemed to have been made well-aware of our positions in advance, acknowledged them and explained that the MBTA thought it important to look at all the Green Line extension options.
Bob Tuchman interjected that he believed Somerville citizens should try to make as strong a case as possible at the State House on December 14th.
Bob Golledge was resistant to the idea that air pollution might have more impact on some areas than others, stating specifically that transport of air pollution from out-of-state – such as Ohio power plants – was a big part of the Massachusetts air pollution problem. Bob Tuchman extended me quite a bit of latitude throughout the meeting to politely rebut Mr. Golledge.
Ellin Reisner was the next Somerville speaker. Ellin focused her remarks on the need for political and transportation leadership. This was a very important point to stress since those in power sometimes dodge their own responsibility by telling the general public that progress rests almost entirely on the public’s own shoulders.
Lawrence Paolella asked two very piercing questions. First, did the speakers refute the data we have presented on transportation and public health impacts? Second, if the state is not going to address the Somerville air pollution problem through provision of new clean transportation, should he re-plan his retirement and move out of Somerville? The general response from the speakers was that they had not had time to review the data and the bit about the Ohio power plants mentioned above.
Although not literally from Somerville, Jeremy Marin of the Sierra Club noted the continuing importance of reducing vehicle miles traveled, and extending clean transit like the Green Line, so that communities like Somerville do not continue to suffer the unabated environmental and health impacts we have borne. Jeremy also asked whatever happened to Governor Romney’s campaign idea to tax SUV’s more highly given their energy consumption and environmental impacts.
Finally, Pat Jehlen did a terrific job in her remarks focusing on three crucial points. First, shouldn’t the transit commitments review start with and emphasize environmental justice – transportation burdens and benefits? Second, where is the political leadership, on transit bond funding and implementation, from the Governor and his agencies? Third, didn’t the very large negative health impacts in Somerville and the relative positive health of Cambridge – which has blocked all major regional highways, kept parking ratios to a minimum and prevented cut-through truck traffic – show just how large the local impacts can be from unequal environmental burdens upon communities?
We have our work cut out for us on December 14th.