Green Line Extension prioritized for federal funding

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA)’s Green Line Extension (GLX) is on a list of transportation and infrastructure projects prioritized by President Donald Trump’s administration, according to a document obtained by the McClatchy Washington Bureau.

The GLX project would extend the MBTA’s Green Line into Somerville and Medford, including a stop adjacent to Tufts at Medford’s College Avenue, according to documents from a public meeting in December 2016.

Last month, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker confirmed that this project has Trump’s support, according to the Boston Globe. Baker’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) spokesperson Lisa Battiston said that MassDOT is working with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) on the project.

“Last week’s risk workshop with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is a required first step in the process of examining the redesign of the Green Line Extension project and its revised budget,” Battiston told the Daily in an email. “The MBTA will continue to work closely with its federal partners as the funding process moves forward in the coming weeks and months.”

Rafael Mares, vice president and director of the Conservation Law Foundation’s Healthy Communities and Environmental Justice program, said the GLX project was changed to make it more financially feasible.

Explaining the purpose of meetings between MassDOT and the FTA, Mares said, “[MassDOT officials] have to meet with the FTA because [MassDOT] changed the scope of the project. The FTA is required to review that scope and ensure that it is consistent with what the federal government and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts originally agreed to.”

Mares added that the planned federal funding for the GLX is not new to Trump’s administration.

“The funding is something that was already approved under the previous administration,” Mares said. “The Green Line Extension went through a process of a ‘scope change’ as a result of increased cost estimates … so that new work scope has to be approved by the FTA, but that funding has been in place for a long time.”

Mares said that the estimated amount of funding from the FTA is $996 million, with the rest of the project’s costs coming from state and local sources, which include the cities of Cambridge and Somerville.

Somerville Alderman Mark Niedergang said the cost for Somerville will be about $50 million. He said that federal funding would not affect the city’s contribution but that the city is looking to mitigate some of those costs.

“The federal funding will not reduce [the cost for local governments] in any way,” Niedergang said. “However, the mayor [of Somerville] has said that he would ask developers who do projects around Green Line stations to contribute, and he’s hoping to get $25 million … over the next 10 or 20 years to mitigate the costs”.

Niedergang explained what he believes is Trump’s motive in placing the project on a list of 50 infrastructure projects that are prioritized to receive federal funding.

Trump just wants to get credit for it,” he said. “The money has already been appropriated, but there’s still some hoops that the state has to jump through in order to get it. [The FTA] wants to know more about project management and the budget. Trump’s going to get credit for it because it’s happening under his administration … but it’s nice that he supports the budget.”

Niedergang also described why he believes the GLX is an important project. In particular, he referenced CLF’s lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which initially obligated the state to complete the GLX.

This decision [to extend the Green Line] was made in [the] 1990s,” he said. “Somerville is greatly underserved by mass transit and has tremendous amounts of excess pollution from diesel transit through our city. We have a huge number of excess deaths due to heart disease, lung disease and cancer because of all the pollution we receive.”

Mares noted similar reasons for wanting the GLX to be built, saying that the area is greatly in need of more mass transit options.

“The corridor in which [the GLX will be] is one of the most densely populated areas in the country, and certainly New England. The current transit service that exists is insufficient to serve this population,” Mares said. “If you scour the country for important infrastructure projects that are already designed and ready to go, you would have to be very biased to leave out the GLX.”