Somerville, Medford file lawsuit against state
MBTA struggling with limited funding, resources
by Bruce Hamilton
Daily Editorial Board
The cities of Medford and Somerville have decided to file a lawsuit in conjunction with the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) against the state of Massachusetts for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act and for reneging on a deal to extend the Green Line.
“When the state got the go-ahead 15 years ago to build the Big Dig, it made a deal – in order to offset the potential pollution and congestion caused by the cars piling into the tunnel, it would also build … a Green Line extension to Somerville and Medford … and we’re here today to remind them – a deal is a deal,” Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said in a Jan. 12 press conference explaining the lawsuit.
The construction of the Big Dig greatly increased the traffic in the surrounding towns, said Lucy Warsh, Curtatone’s public information officer.
In exchange for this, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) was supposed to extend the Green Line and create more stops.
Currently, the only subway stop in Somerville, a city of 80,000, is the on the Red Line at Davis Square. Cambridge, by comparison, has seven stops, and Needham, a suburb roughly one-quarter the size of Somerville, has four.
“This is an injustice, a wrong we plan to right through this suit and our other efforts in the years to come,” Curtatone said.
The MBTA approved a $391,000 feasibility study of the project in Mar. 2004, considering various options.
“We are in the process of conducting a study. We are interested in this project,” Lydia Rivera of the MBTA Public Affairs Office said. “We do have limited resources. We also, along with this project, have other priorities and realities. Funding is holding us back.”
According to Rivera, the MBTA will examine the “ridership” of the various routes and services it provides, and take estimates this spring as part of the Green Line extension study. The MBTA will also consider whether to convert existing tracks and equipment or build entirely new rails, as well as the environmental impact of this project.
The affected cities, however, have made it clear that they feel this is not progressing quickly enough, and that the state must take immediate action to make good on their deal.
“The state is delaying the process,” Warsh said. “They’re doing what bureaucracies do. They’re prolonging the process. They’re not doing it. They’re just talking about it.”
In addition to giving citizens access to the convenience of public transportation, Warsh and Curtatone point to the environmental impact of the increase in the number of cars driving through and around Somerville as a result of the Big Dig.
“Everyday, more than a quarter of a million cars travel through Somerville. As they do, they spew pollution that leaves us with some of the dirtiest air on the East Coast,” Curtatone said.
“There is data that says that the Big Dig increased transit by cars by [a certain amount] per day in Somerville,” Warsh said. “That is certainly part of the argument, saying listen, this is a huge burden to our community.”
Given this, the cities filed intent to sue on Jan. 12, and a mandatory 60-day notice means that litigation can begin, at the earliest, Mar.12. The state has begun to hold public hearings and meetings with representatives and citizens from Cambridge, Medford, and Somerville as part of the initial study.
According to Rivera, the Green Line is the busiest of the MBTA’s subways, with total ridership at around 225,000 per day, out of a total MBTA ridership of 1.1 million per day. Facing a $16 million deficit, however, funding is the biggest obstacle for the MBTA.
“If the state decides to direct us to advance this project, we will do so,” Rivera said. “We’re at a standstill right now.”
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Editorial: Green Line extension long overdue
Estimates put the cost of the project at around $375 million, and it is still unclear what the result of the lawsuit will be. Curtatone’s wish, however, is for the project to be “implemented in a satisfactory way” by 2011.
A typical day on campus brings a student or visitor at Tufts a vast array of conflicting sensations: the green (or white) campus and the perpetually crowded streets, or the clang of Goddard’s bells and the relentless honking of car horns. Although Tufts may bill itself as a “suburban” University, the reality on the ground, as most Tufts students know, is that the Medford and Somerville communities in which Jumbos live and learn are very urban. They are also underserved by public transportation, a situation which is an unfair hindrance to economic growth and quality of life in the two cities.
When the Big Dig was started, certain concessions were made to affected communities to offset the environmental disturbance that the dig would bring. Now with the Dig winding up, the state and the MBTA need to take steps to fulfill assurances made to Hub communities years ago. This is not simply a matter of goodwill on the part of the parties involved: the Green Line extension, for one, has been mandated by two separate court decisions. In order for the stations of the extension to be in place by 2011 (as required), planning must be expedited. The right-of-way, after all, is already in place as a commuter rail line that runs along Boston Avenue.
A Green Line extension would do much to ease the lives of residents in Medford and Somerville. Somerville, the most densely populated city in Massachusetts, has long been underserved by the MBTA, with the results being traffic, pollution, and noise. It isn’t just a pain, it’s unhealthy: Somerville has the highest rates of lung cancer in the state, a statistic that is almost certainly due in part to the prevalence of air pollution in the city. On the other side of the hill, Medford residents would greatly benefit from a rail extension that would make the town a bit quieter and more mobile.
The extension won’t just mean physical mobility for the two towns: it will be a huge economic boon for businesses and residents alike. Residents used to dealing with traffic in their journeys to Boston will gain a quick, convenient, and cheap way to access all that the metro area has to offer. Businesses across the area will see their fortunes look up when T stations bring people and pocketbooks into Medford and Somerville.
Tufts, of course, would also benefit, as the current plans call for a T stop essentially on campus. Gone will be cold midwinter walks to Davis, replaced by convenient transportation that allows students a quick way in to Boston and affords visitors an easy way to get to campus.
Bringing the Green Line out to the hillside will finally bring the residents of local communities the transportation they have paid for and deserve. The trains are not a luxury: they are absolutely necessary. Somerville and Medford residents deserve the same transportation options afforded to the more affluent and influential inner ‘burbs, and now is the time to work for transportation equality. The MBTA needs to get its act together and make the next stop for the Green Line extension progress.