Residents get important Green Line updates at public meeting

  • Post category:Green Line

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.)

Here’s video of the entire meeting:

Below are detailed notes from our friends at MGNA


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.


Jack Wright, an engineer with consulting firm Weston & Sampson, is serving as Interim Project Manager, reporting directly to MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola and leading a nine-member team:


– Joe Allegro (Allegro Construction Services), Deputy Project Manager & Quality Control

– Matt Poirier (Keville Enterprises), Project Controls Manager

– Anthony Lancellotti (Reliance Engineers), Design Value Manager

– Joanne Haracz (McMahon Associates), Environmental Review

– John Karn (ARUP), Estimate/Design Leader


– Kate Fichter (MassDOT), Interim Manager, Stakeholder Engagement

– David Mohler (MassDOT), Interim Manager, Revenue

– Jamey Tesler (MassDOT), Interim Manager, Procurement

– Paul Hadley (MBTA), Director of Existing Contracts


Jack Wright said the team’s charge is to report to the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) whether the project costs, projected at $2.7 billion to $3 billion, can be reduced to the approximately $2 billion currently budgeted ($1 billion state, $1 billion federal). He said a review is underway to “redesign every aspect” of the project to “bring it back to budget” in order to provide the required light rail service to Somerville and Medford.

Doug Carr, citing the importance of continuity, asked how the work of the previous consultants was being reviewed. Jack Wright said HDR/Gilbane (former program manager) has been helping with the transition and that AECOM/HNTB (design manager) still is involved. He did say that with a smaller team, it will be more difficult to maintain the same level of interaction with the public.

Ellin Reisner (Working Group member, Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership) asked about plans for public involvement. Kate Fichter said four to six public meetings were being planned before early May when the team’s report is due to the FMCB, and that additional Working Group meetings also could be scheduled. One-on-one meetings also are being held with the cities of Cambridge, Somerville and Medford, Tufts University, and developers of projects at North Point (Divco) and Union Square (US2). Fichter noted that unlike previously, the project team currently has no consultant support for public outreach. She said she was looking for input on whether the public meetings should be general in nature or station area-specific. Reisner said she would like to see regular Working Group meetings, and that the public meetings should start out as general, and end more specific. Jim McGinnis (WG member, Union Square) said that the Union Square Station deserves its own meeting, given that the Dec. 9 presentation to the FMCB indicated possibly eliminating that station. Sean Sullivan (WG member) suggested that preparing specific questions for the Working Group to answer might be an effective way to utilize the body.

Jack Wright said he was “very interested in knowing” what the public thinks can come out of the project to help get it back to budget. “It’s safe to say that as designed, we can’t afford it,” he said. Instead, a “very minimalistic” design will be produced in an attempt to get the project cost at or below the $2 billion budget. “At that time,” Wright said, “the public engagement kicks in and we seek input on the things can be returned to the project first.”

Alan Moore (WG, Somerville Bicycle Committee, Friends of the Community Path) questioned how the project cost doubled, citing historic data that show MassDOT transportation project costs rise by about 7%, and vertical construction projects (buildings) by about 16%. He asked whether the contractor artificially inflated the cost estimate for Contract 4. Wright said inflation was possible, given the procurement method, and that he believes that if the project goes forward, the project team will recommend using a design-build or design-bid-build procurement method, which would result in competitive bids.

Laurel Ruma (WG, College Avenue) asked where progress stood on the summary schedule that was distributed. Wright said that internal rescoping workshops were underway, with an emphasis on trying to identify all potentials savings. “We need to look at everything,” Wright said. The potential cost reduction measures are being assembled into a redesign matrix – 130 items have been identified already – each with a dollar value.

Ruma also asked about the team’s confidence in the $3 billion cost projection, which she termed “inflammatory.” Wright said he was not confident in the $3 billion figure, which he termed as “simply a projection.” However, he noted that it “does show what the threat is” in terms of a potential high-end cost estimate, which is of interest to the FMCB, which will decide the project’s fate. He said the cost was heading “to at least $2.5 billion.”


John Karn of ARUP gave an overview of the project redesign effort, which is focusing on the core elements of the project required to maintain its functionality and its compliance with approved planning documents such as the Full Funding Grant Agreement and environmental impact reports.  That review includes benchmarking the GLX against 16 other U.S. light rail projects in the FTA database. The team has found that the GLX is the most expensive project, although Karn noted that the GLX encompasses additional components that other projects do not, such as relocating and maintaining service on existing parallel commuter rail  lines, an adjacent community path, and drainage work. The review also concluded that the GLX stations as currently designed are larger and more robust that typical light trail system stations.

Karn listed the value engineering and cost reduction opportunity areas, ranked in order of their percentage of capital cost. No. 1 was the Lowell commuter rail cross-section (40%), followed by station design (23%), Union Square branch (15%), viaducts (12%), maintenance and storage facility (11%), and schedule and productivity improvements (8%). He said the review found “no silver bullet to bring the project back in line,” but that there was the potential for a reduction of capital costs of 10% to 40%.

Among the specific measures being considered:

Lowell cross section (the “cut” in which the Medford branch of the extension will be built): Slimming the right-of-way area, which would reduce “quantity consumption” and costs; designing the emergency egress routes, Community Path and retaining walls more economically; eliminating a utility corridor; and shortening construction time.

Stations: Redesign “smaller, more Spartan but functional” stations with only the necessary elements included and “leave the art of the possible for future development.”

Union Square: Consider alternatives to Green Line station, such as a commuter rail station, or a rail or bus shuttle to Lechmere Station.

Viaducts: Reduce size, mass and number; replace viaduct carrying lead track to maintenance yard with an at-grade track; design the emergency egress/Community Path viaduct in a more economical way.

Maintenance/storage facility: “Right-size” the facility to include only the core requirements of the GLX (for example, 24- to 44-car storage capacity rather than 80 cars, light maintenance operations only).

Schedule/productivity: Work off-peak hours (nights, weekend) and run commuter rail on a single track to expand work zone; institute temporary commuter rail shuttle service, weekend service interruptions, and temporarily terminate Fitchburg CR service at Porter Square (passenger transfer to Red Line).

Alan Moore asked Jack Wright whether he and project team would be determining which measures on the redesign matrix to recommend to the FMCB. Wright said there is a hierarchy of policymakers at MassDOT and the MBTA who would ultimately decide and present the recommendations to the board. “My scope is to show it’s possible [to build the GLX within the original budget], to get the board to say “explore further.”

Jim McGinnis said the project advocates had not been pushing for extravagant stations and would be content with simple stations such as those he observed on the new light rail system in Minneapolis-St. Paul. He asked if an at-grade station alternative at Lechmere was being considered, and commented that he thinks the MBTA should show some flexibility and back away from rigid and costly positions, such as not allowing passengers to walk across the GLX tracks (he noted that the Twin Cities system allows pedestrians and bicycles to cross the tracks at designated areas). Jim Wright said an at-grade Lechmere Station was being evaluated, but that it presents many challenges, including how the frequent headways would affect vehicle traffic on nearby side streets. With regard to MBTA policies, Wright said the new team has a new mandate, new rules and is breaking down previous assumptions.

Laurel Ruma said the need for 34 cars at the northern end of the extension for the start of morning service was new information and a higher number than previously stated. Wright said 20 cars currently are stored at Lechmere Station and 24 vehicles are needed to extend Green Line service.

Doug Carr said it was still unclear to him whether removing the GLX Station would violate the Full Funding Grant Agreement with FTA. Jim Wright said there needs to be a station at Union Square to comply with the FFGA, but that it could be served with something other than the Green Line.


MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola presented a comparison of the original and revised project budgets and explained where the increases occurred. The original budget was $1.992 billion, with a roughly 50/50 federal/state split. Of that, $1.06 billion was for construction, and the balance for professional services, right-of-way acquisition, the purchase of 24 new Green Line cars, plus a $240 million contingency.

The FFGA was submitted in May/June 2014 based on conceptual designs; as the detailed design advanced to 100%, the contractor (White Skanska Kiewit, WSK) submitted its bid on Contract 4, building Lechmere, Union Square Station and Washington Street stations. That process revealed a huge price discrepancy between the contractor’s bid ($869 million), and the cost estimates of the project engineer ($486 million) and an independent cost estimator ($732 million). The WSK bid for Contract 4 alone – which represents 40% of the project construction work – exceeded the remaining total in the budget for all construction (about $800 million). DePaola said the MBTA extrapolated the Contract 4 bid figures over the balance of the construction work to arrive at the new cost estimate of $2.7 billion (based on the independent cost estimator’s number) to $3 billion (based on the WSK number).

He also noted that as designed and bid on, Contract 4 stations were far more expensive than the new Assembly Square Orange Line Station (the Union Square station cost estimate being 1.75 to 2 times higher per square foot than Assembly). “Clearly there are a lot of design elements in these stations that goes above and beyond other stations that the T would build for rapid transit,” DePaola said. Referencing stations at the other end of the Green Line, he said, “We went from in Newton, where it’s a piece of paved sidewalk with a bench and sign, to a $40 million station.”

The fundamental takeaway, DePaola said, was that “we’ve designed a project that we cannot afford to build,” and elements of the project must be eliminated to bring costs down as close as possible to the existing construction budget.  Since certain elements are fixed per FFGA requirements (seven stations, a maintenance facility), DePaola said much of the cost reduction has to come out of the station designs, as well as cutting out other amenities such as a flyover at the lead track to the maintenance yard. He also said the maintenance facility will cut back to about 25% of what was originally conceived to be.

Laurel Ruma asked for confirmation that the Union Square Station is required in order for the project to comply with the FFGA. DePaola said that was the case, but that the station could be serviced in a number of ways, such as a commuter rail stop, which he knows is not popular with the public, or by using a single track spur between Lechmere and Union Square, which would only require one platform on one side at the station.

Returning to the budget details, DePaola explained how the cost estimates were determined based on the “hard costs” for things such as materials, and noted the discrepancies for Contract 4:



Program Manager Estimate

Independent Estimator


Contractor Bid

Lechmere Station

$41.1 million

$69.9 million

$71.5 million

Washington Station

$23.4 million

$47.1 million

$49.8 million

Union Square Station

$26.5 million

$39.3 million

$39.9 million

Washington Street Bridge

$9.6 million

$12.8 million

$14.5 million

Lechmere Viaduct

$39.7 million

$47.9 million

$50.4 million

Medford Branch Viaduct

$38.7 million

$43.2 million

$47.2 million

DePaola said the stations need to be scaled down to reduce the amount of materials and reduce cost.  “There’s a lot of money in stations that we need to extract out,” he said, but acknowledged that alone would not be enough savings. “Even if we cut the stations in half or more than half, we’re probably going to get $100 million, $150 million, luckily maybe $200 million out of those stations. We need to find about $700 million, if not a little bit more, in reductions, in order for this project to remain viable.” He reiterated that those include downsizing the Lowell cut and the maintenance facility. During the audience Q&A, DePaola also said that creating a continuous path along the extension “has to be re-examined” as the team “looks at what can be eliminated and still provide light rail service.”


Kate Fichter said she will work with Doug Carr to schedule the next Working Group meeting, which likely will be held during business hours. Tentative dates for the first two public meetings are March 3 and March 23, the latter meeting to be co-hosted by Tufts University. Those meetings will be from 6 to 8 p.m.