Green Line update from State Rep. Denise Provost

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The following is from Rep. Provost’s newsletter…
On March 15, 2011, I met, along with other members of the Somerville legislative delegation, with officials from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) about the status of the Green Line Extension (GLX) project. Here are some highlights of that meeting….

1) Funding
Readers may remember that the legislature authorized $600 million for the project in the 2008 Transportation Bond Bill. Since that time, the demise of the proposed development of North Point in Cambridge has shifted to the state responsibility for the relocation of Lechmere Station. That item, and others, have led to a revised project cost estimate of about $900 million – roughly $1 billion – leading to concerns about the project financing plan. We learned that:
+ The state is applying for federal New Starts grant funding for 50% of the project. This grant is determined not so much as “a big up or down,” but as “a series of incremental approvals” (Kate Fichter, Project Manager for GLX). The state will find out some time this summer if it has been approved for federal reimbursement towards its preliminary engineering phase.
+ Even if New Starts approval is not forthcoming, the project will proceed with state funds. Doing so will necessitate the filing of another transportation bond bill. A first draft of that bill has been prepared, which MassDOT is working on with the Governor’s Office of Administration and Finance, but it is not certain when the bill will be filed.
+ The challenges of qualifying for New Starts funding is partly that “the federal rules penalize, a bit, cities that have invested in transit systems, and favors those which have not” (MBTA General Manager Richard Davey). The state’s serious backlog in keeping the existing MBTA system in a state of good repair is also an issue. MassDOT’s Secretary Jeffrey Mullan has devoted some effort to trying to get the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to change some of its rules around the New Starts program: “the best way [now] to advance New Starts funding is to have no stops – or, move to Phoenix or Charlotte – quick travel times increase scores” under the New Starts grading system for projects.
2) Project Schedule
+ MassDOT’s David Mohler still estimates that the project is only a year behind schedule. Vehicle procurement is proceeding. The next 14 months will be devoted to preliminary engineering; accumulating the final documents necessary to go out to bid for final design.
+ Kate Fichter anticipates that there could be “some progress on build,” by the fall of 2012, although MBTA’s Richard Davey characterized such a schedule as “very aggressive.” Project planners are looking at the possibility of doing some bridge work or track work in advance of the rest of the project: Jeffrey Mullan said that “there is a strategy that would have us break up the project into smaller segments,” but that such a direction would not be taken if it “hurt the overall project…” Local station design workshops could start as soon as late May, 2011, and continue through the summer.
3) The Community Path?
While Jeffrey Mullan states that “you don’t have to sell us on the benefits of the Community Path, “it does create funding challenges, “and doesn’t improve our chances for New Starts funding. While the Cedar Street to Lowell Street portion of the path is pretty straightforward, other parts of the design further east, that call for the path to be cantilevered off the side of the right of way’s retaining wall are so complex and expensive that, “it’s possible that no one will ever fund it – ever,” said Kate Fichter. She suggested that we would need to “revisit” the design, and consider more shared road use, and other “on-grade options.”