STEP member Wig Zamore reports on:
1. What has transpired in the Boston MPO “consultation” the last month or two.
2. Next steps with the Ozone SIP at DEP and EOT.
3. State plans for Green Line project financing.
4. Planning by the MBTA, the cities and the affected neighborhoods.
1. In the last month or so there have been three meetings of the Boston MPO – Metropolitan Planning Organization – dealing with the Ozone SIP transit obligations. These included a presentation by Dennis DiZoglio to the MPO about the “transit commitments” alternatives and recommendations, preliminary discussion within the MPO, an evening of public testimony and finally a recording of the opinions of individual members of the Boston MPO.
Generally the MPO members applauded the Fairmount Line commitments and the Somerville / Medford Green Line extensions. They were not sure the Ozone SIP was the appropriate vehicle for the Fairmount Line given the lack of large positive project-related air quality improvements, but the MPO members who spoke were unanimous in their strong support of better transit service in the two corridors.
There was great concern about the practicality of the Arborway Green Line Restoration, especially given the lack of support from Boston City Hall and the lack of perceived consensus in the affected neighborhoods. But there was also explicit concern that the environmental obligations to the Arborway corridor might not be met unless a suite of specific actions were substituted there.
With regard to the Red – Blue connection, there is sympathy within the MPO but some feel it is a project better done in sync with a Blue Line extension to Lynn and a unified Federal New Starts funding application for both. The back story seems to be that Silverline III is the number one large transit priority for the City of Boston.
Although I had expected there might be an MPO vote on the transit commitments, there will not be. The “consultation” between the MPO and the executive agencies is being memorialized in the record of members’ comments. At some point in the next year or so, one would also expect the Boston MPO to incorporate the Green Line extensions and the Fairmount Line into their certified transportation planning and air quality documents. There is some question if this has to be done if a project is entirely financed with state money, but it would seem wrong to leave these regionally significant projects out of the regional plans and the formal documents.
2. The state executive agencies have committed to completing their re-evaluation of the “transit commitments” and their revisions of the Ozone SIP by the end of 2005 or so. Sometime soon we should see new draft documents which incorporate the recommendations of the Executive Office of Transportation and then the responses of the Department of Environmental Protection. There will be some additional public process at both the state and Federal levels during this adoption of changes to the Ozone SIP but there will not likely be any additional “planning” by these agencies within this process. Any legal challenge of the SIP changes is likely to come from CLF but not others from this point forward.
3. There is currently no specific source of financing for the Green Line extensions or the additional work necessary before construction. The project will be financed by new state transportation bond bill language, by tapping into general funds or by some other combination of Federal and state money.
Sooner, rather than later, the state really needs to specify the funding sources.
Without that specification the annual flow of Federal transportation money to Massachusetts is at risk. By Federal regulation, Ozone SIP projects must be given priority in transportation plans submitted by any state to Washington DC, and all state transportation plans must be “fiscally constrained” – i.e., real funding sources must be identified.
4. At least $1.5 million will be needed for additional Green Line extension planning and preparation of environmental permitting documents. I do not know if this process needs, in the minds of the executive branches and the MBTA, to wait for the completion of the Ozone SIP changes or not. As a matter of equity and expediency in meeting long-standing Clean Air Act obligations, these funds should be committed as soon as possible.
During this next MBTA planning process, specific route alignments, station locations and their characteristics should all be decided with heavy input from affected neighborhoods and the broader communities of Somerville and Medford. Simultaneously, if not before, the two communities should be having comprehensive local land use discussions with the affected neighborhoods and other interested local parties at the table. Although I speak for myself only, I believe that most Somerville citizens will be broadly supportive of neighborhood preferences within both Somerville and Medford. In short, we believe that those most affected in Medford should determine the length and end of that Green Line extension.
At the same time, we support a full exchange of citizen ideas and education all around regarding any issues that may not be well understood. We all can learn a bit from each other. In Somerville we have been very interested in the economic development, service levels and quality of life that can be boosted through better transit options. We have also, however, been very concerned about the severe local public health impacts of regional reliance on highways. Though not quite as intensely affected, Medford citizens also have reason to be concerned about the impacts of I93 and the arterials which connect Middlesex County and Boston. Those who live or work in close proximity to these major roads are most affected.
With over 8 excess deaths per square mile from lung cancer and heart attacks between 1996 and 2000, after adjusting for both population density and age, Medford was 7th worst out of the 101 cities and towns of the Boston MPO region. In total number of excess deaths from these two causes, Medford was 6th worst. Somerville was 1st – i.e., worst in the state and region – in both categories even though we have low smoking rates. Five regional communities were worse than Medford in these public health results – Somerville, Chelsea, Revere, Everett and Lynn – but Medford’s results are still near enough to the bottom that there should be some real concern. The Medford results would be expected and are consistent with the current level of understanding of fine particle pollution from mobile sources and their local impacts.
Done well and in concert with the concerns of affected neighborhoods, the Green Line extensions can be a real asset to both communities,
Wig Zamore, STEP