“Residents: Bring us a Green Line”
About 600 people showed their support for the Green Line in Somerville Monday, but 8-year-old Iliana Nilson may have said it best. “I’ve lived in Somerville my whole life,” Nilson told an panel of state officials while she stood on a chair and leaned into a microphone. “I’d like the air in Somerville to be clean. Please build the Green Line.”
But the grown-ups weren’t always so easy on the state officials, including Dan Grabauskas, the director of the Executive Office of Transportation.
“If you are going to rob people, you should at least wear a mask,” said Somerville resident Joe Thompson.
The state is considering backing out of commitments it made to Somerville during the 1990s to build a Green Line extension through the city into West Medford to counter pollution and traffic caused by the Big Dig.
State officials did not respond to the audience comments Monday, but Grabauskas said the outpouring of support Somerville has showed for the Green Line extension will factor in the state’s decision to build the train line or abandon the plan.
“I’ve never seen such an outpouring as I’ve seen for this particular project,” Grabauskas told a crowd that filled the Somerville High School auditorium Monday. Grabauskas said Somerville and Medford residents have e-mailed him in support of the Green Line four to eight times a day.
In addition to dozens of resident testimonies Monday, local politicians from Congressman Michael Capuano to members of the Board of Aldermen voiced their support for the Green Line and their outrage against the state’s attempts to reconsider building the train line in Somerville.
“If you take this away from us, you take away our future,” Alderman at Large Bill White said. “Do what is right. Abandon this process and live up to your commitments.”
State Rep. Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville, said pollution caused by cars on I-93 in Somerville and other traffic are causing an increased amount of asthma and cancer in the city.
“Somerville has paid the price of the Big Dig,” Jehlen said. “This is a public health emergency and the delay [in extending the Green Line] is costing people’s lives.”
Warwick Street resident Sandy Resnick said her daughter developed asthma when she was 4 years old and stopped growing for 18 months as a result of her illness.
“Why does she have this; because we live in this city,” Resnick said. “This was a commitment that was made. We can’t say ‘oh, you don’t want to build [the Green Line] so take I-93 out of my back yard because I don’t want it there.'”
Somerville resident Marty Martinez said that despite the large crowd at the hearing Monday, there were still “thousands and thousands” of people in Somerville, many who are immigrants, who could not attend the meeting because they had to work.
“They not only want the state [to build the Green Line extension]; they need you to,” Martinez said.
State Sen. Jarrett Barrios said the state committed to the Green Line repeatedly in the 1990s and as recently as 2002.
“Mae West once said an ounce of performance is worth a whole pound of promises,” Barrios said. “We’ve had pounds and pounds of promises, and some of us would like to see an ounce of performance.”
Capuano said the U.S. House of Representatives just passed a transportation equity act which includes authorizing language to extend the Green Line through Somerville into Medford.
“I’m here to say unequivocally the Green Line will be extended through Somerville,” Capuano said.
But Capuano said to the panel of state officials that a dedicated bus line, similar to the Silver Line in Boston, would not work for Somerville.
“We have buses coming out of our ears,” Capuano said. “The option of a [bus rapid transit line] is unacceptable.”
Mayor Joe Curtatone said Somerville has had to put up with commuter rails running through the city without stopping and only a single MBTA stop. Adding Green Line train stops in Union Square, Ball Square, Magoun Square and Gilman Square would create jobs in Somerville and the state, Curtatone said.
“Here in Somerville, we have a bit of a chip on our shoulder when it comes to trains,” Curtatone said. “We simply want to pursue the very smart growth policies that your administration wants to pursue.”
Magoun Square activist Joe Lynch told Grabauskas and the other members of the state panel to tell Gov. Willard Mitt Romney their efforts to convince Somerville the Green Line isn’t needed aren’t making headway.
“Tell him you’ve given it your best shot to persuade and cajole…” Lynch said. “Tell him it’s not working.”