Green Line Extension construction continues amid pandemic

A sign promoting the MBTA Green Line Extension project is pictured on April 17, 2018. Evan Slack / The Tufts Daily Archives

The Green Line Extension (GLX) project of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will continue its construction amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This project’s contract was awarded in November 2017 and is scheduled to be completed by December 2021.

While the cities of Somerville and Medford issued construction stoppages to adhere to social distancing guidelines, the GLX project is deemed essential by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, according to Rocco DiRico, Tufts’ director of government and community relations.

The GLX is a state project and therefore not subject to city-wide construction suspensions, according to the city of Somerville’s website.

On March 31, the MBTA Twitter account posted a picture of construction workers receiving social distancing training, with trainees sitting distantly from each other and the instructions projected on a screen.

In an email to the Daily, MBTA Director of Communications Joe Pesaturo shared pictures of the construction sites, which display single-occupancy bathrooms, signs that urge social distancing and workers wearing masks and other personal protective equipment.

At an April 13 meeting of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board and the Fiscal and Management Control Board, GLX Program Manager John Dalton discussed both the project’s current status and COVID-19’s impact on it.

According to Dalton, there have been no COVID-19-related supply chain problems regarding construction materials or workers.

“We have begun to hear about potential supply chain impacts, [though] we haven’t felt any quite yet,” Dalton said. “Between the supply chain and the labor force, whether it’s union directions or people coming in ill, we’re keeping eye on them every day.”

He said areas involved with the project, including two sites near Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus, will remain under construction.

Conscious of the construction’s effects on communities and businesses, the MBTA has been working with the communities of Cambridge, Somerville and Medford to avoid as much disruption caused by the project as possible.

“Working closely with @CambMA, the GLX team reached out to neighbors about timing this key lift while maintaining access to essential deliveries,” the MBTA tweeted, referring to the installation of steel beams at Water Street in East Cambridge and tagging the City of Cambridge’s twitter account.

As Tufts anticipates a decrease in revenue and the suspension of its capital projects, it is unclear how the continuation of GLX will impact the university budget, according to Gretchen Von Grossmann, director of capital programs.

“The University is considering several scenarios for all active design and construction projects and will be prepared to move forward as appropriate once conditions allow,” Von Grossman wrote in an email to the Daily. “It’s premature to predict the budget implications of project delays.”

Tufts Executive Director of Media Relations Patrick Collins said the university has taken measures to address projected shortfall, including a moratorium on hiring and salary freezes. Collins said the university could take further action depending on future circumstances

“Additional measures may be taken in coming weeks as more information becomes available, economic conditions become clearer, and federal, state and local health authorities provide guidance on the timing of possible resumption of normal operations,” Collins wrote in an email. 

The Daily first reported on the GLX in October 2015, after the MBTA announced that the project faced $1 billion in excess costs. The project initially broke ground in 2012, but experienced various delays.

The project once again broke ground in 2018, with completion expected in spring 2021. The project website now reports a completion date of December 2021.

GLX has been met with skepticism by those in the surrounding areas. In addition to the tremendous cost of the project itself, which left residents to consider if taxes will increase and how communities benefit from the project, it was widely speculated that the arrival of a new T-station would come with increases in housing costs.

Bridge closures necessitated by the project have also had negative impacts on local businesses.

The closure of Broadway Bridge was estimated to have reduced circulation in Ball Square by 20%. The detours are projected to be lifted by July 2020.