STEP’s letter to Gov. Patrick on Green Line land use planning and the maintenance facility

  • Post category:Green Line

Dear Governor Patrick,
This letter follows up on correspondence from Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone to Bernard Cohen, Secretary of Transportation dated December 9, 2008 that was copied to you, our legislative delegation and Congressman Capuano. The Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership (STEP) is communicating our support and concerns directly to you because of your strong commitment to this project and your leadership in supporting economic development and smart growth in the state.
We support Mayor Curtatone’s goal of ensuring that EOT’s proposed siting of the Green Line Maintenance Facility does not interfere with Somerville’s economic development goals for Inner Belt/Brickbottom or add to the environmental justice burden our city already endures. Inner Belt/Brickbottom is ideally situated for the expansion of green, health and other technological development that your administration has identified as critically important for the economic future of our state.
Before a sound decision can possibly be made that addresses these critical issues, we urgently need the state’s assistance in carrying out a master planning process for Inner Belt/Brickbottom that will enable successful mixed use transit oriented economic development while minimizing the impact of the Green Line maintenance facility on the community.

Over the years Somerville residents have been environmentally overburdened by transportation infrastructure. The MBTA is currently the largest land owner in our city of almost 79,000 people and only 4 square miles in size. We live with the health effects from mobile sources of pollution from the 200 commuter rail trains traveling through Somerville daily, from 200,000 vehicles per day traveling in the I-93 corridor (including Route 38), and the diesel pollution from the 30 acre Boston Engine Terminal.
We live with the negative consequences of poor planning of the past, such as the decision to construct I-93 as an elevated structure in Somerville rather than in a reservation as the citizens of Somerville advocated. The result of this decision increased the health effects from vehicular pollution for people living near the highway. Additionally, the elevated I-93 structure divided the community, negatively affected the local economy in East Somerville, and resulting in the bulldozing of a large neighborhood. Similarly, East Somerville contends with heavy traffic all day on Washington St. because the I-93 off-ramp to Washington St. in Somerville (and Cambridge St. in Charlestown) is always congested. In addition to the highway pollution and heavy traffic on Route 28, East Somerville residents are also exposed to diesel pollution from the Boston Engine Terminal where all MBTA Commuter Rail equipment is maintained. Somerville receives no benefit from this transportation infrastructure, but we do live with the burdens. We do not want to live with the effects of poor planning for the Green Line Extensions, which is why we are so strongly committed to master planning for Brickbottom/Inner Belt.
Somerville residents are very enthusiastic about the transportation improvements that the Green Line Extension will provide. However, we are worried. EOT’s selection of the site for the maintenance facility in Inner Belt/Brickbottom signals that the agency has ignored both the economic development goals and environmental justice concerns the city and community members have clearly articulated since the beginning of the environmental review process two years ago.
When the “Beyond Lechmere” feasibility study was conducted by the MBTA in 2005 prior to the environmental review, the MBTA recommended a facility that would perform “light” maintenance and store only the cars serving the new branches. However, the new EOT plan is for a facility that will store up to 80 cars and provide more extensive maintenance. This expansion will meet system-wide needs, not just new service beyond Lechmere. Thus, the 11 acres EOT wants for the facility adds to Somerville’s regional infrastructure burden, removes developable land from the city’s tax commercial property tax base and interferes with needed economic development.
While it is somewhat unusual for local citizens to advocate for major commercial development in their community, we know that successful economic development in Inner Belt/Brickbottom can create a vibrant mixed use district. Once the Green Line Extensions and Urban Ring connections are built, the area can leverage its convenient location near MIT, Harvard, Tufts, and our leading medical institutions. Recognizing the importance of this area for both local and regional economic development at the initiation of the environmental review by EOT on December 1, 2006, the Somerville Transportation Equity partnership (STEP) advocated for land use planning for Inner Belt/Brickbottom in East Somerville to maximize economic development that would bring desperately needed commercial tax revenue to Somerville. This would in turn reduce the city’s dependence on local aid from the state. This vision was supported in the certificate issued to EOT to commence the environmental review by the Secretary of Environmental Affairs, but has not been addressed by EOT.
We hope that the Commonwealths Executive Office of Community and Economic Development can provide assistance to the city and EOT to accomplish successful economic redevelopment.
We were initially encouraged that the Secretary’s certificate called for EOT to do corridor planning “to examine zoning, development opportunities, the relationship of environmental justice communities to the project and potential and existing transit connections” (EENF Certificate EOEA# 13886, December 1, 2006). Two STEP members appointed by Mayor Curtatone to the Green Line Extension Project Advisory Group (CAC) for the Green Line Extensions looked forward to CAC members working with EOT on “all aspects of the project including land use, project alternatives, ridership and mitigation” (ibid).
Time is running out to address these serious issues. The project is legally required to be completed by December 31, 2014 and we don’t want the Green Line Extensions delayed beyond that date. Yet there are significant unresolved issues. After two years of participating on the CAC and closely following the planning efforts by EOT and its project consultants we are extremely discouraged that:
– The needed land use planning in the corridor, specifically Inner Belt/Brickbottom has not taken place;
– Community and city recommendations for the maintenance facility have been marginalized;
– Efforts to maximize ridership on the Green Line Extensions through constructing the extension of the community path from Lowell Street in Somerville to Boston has been rejected by EOT as too costly while EOT plans to construct an expensive and unwanted parking facility at the proposed Route 16 terminus.
STEP continues to work with the city of Somerville, other community groups, and the Somerville Chamber of Commerce and state officials to move this critically important project forward to meet the 2014 opening date. However, we strongly believe that the funding for this transportation project should be invested wisely to serve our community and region for the near future and for the next 100 years. If the Green Line extensions are poorly executed Somerville will live with the results of poor planning and increased environmental burden for generations to come.
Very sincerely yours,
Ellin Reisner, President
Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership and
Member Green Line Extension Project Advisory Group
James McGinnis, Member
Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership and
Member Green Line Extension Project Advisory Group
Cc: Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone, City of Somerville
Secretary Daniel O’Connell, EOHED, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Secretary Bernard Cohen, EOT, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Undersecretary of Transportation, Wendy Stern
Congressman Michael Capuano, U. S. House of Representatives
Senator Anthony Galluccio, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Senator Patricia Jehlen, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Representative Denise Provost, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Representative Timothy Toomey, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Representative CarL Sciortino, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Honorable Board of Aldermen, City of Somerville
Carrie Russell, Staff Attorney, Conservation Law Foundation
Marc Draisen, Metropolitan Area Planning Council