Pollack: More Green Line funds needed

Tells lawmakers $1.2b bond authorization not enough


IF THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION is to press ahead with the Green Line Extension project, the Legislature will likely have to authorize additional bonding next year to pay for the project, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told lawmakers Wednesday.

“As I’ve said repeatedly, the option of halting the project remains on the table until or unless we can develop a fiscally-responsible approach to completing the project,” Pollack told the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets. “If the project is to continue, I must emphasize that the Commonwealth’s contribution may well need to increase beyond the $1.2 billion that was authorized in the 2014 transportation bond bill. If that is the case, we would be seeking additional bond authorization from the Legislature.”

The Green Line extension through Somerville and into Medford, initially estimated at $2 billion, could end up costing as much as $3 billion based on the price the state’s selected contractors gave for building some of the stations. Though the work that had already begun is continuing, no new work has gotten underway since the ballooning cost was made public in August.

Pollack told the committee that the support of the Legislature would be critical for the T to be in a position to renegotiate the project’s underlying financing plan, which unlocks nearly $1 billion in federal money for the project.

“The Green Line Extension is an important investment with real economic, transportation, and environmental benefits — not just for Cambridge, Somerville, and Medford but for the Commonwealth,” Pollack said. “But, if the Commonwealth’s contribution is to increase, we need to know that there is agreement that such an increased contribution is supported not just by the MBTA but by the Legislature.”

Pollack has recently discussed “value-sharing” talks she’s had with developers along the Green Line Extension route aimed at securing potential private aid for the project, given the likelihood that improved public transit will lead to higher prices for condominiums and better retail and office space leasing opportunities in the area.

The MassDOT Board and the T’s control board will hold a joint meeting Nov. 30 to look at the project’s history and will seek to learn why costs increased so much, and on Dec. 9 will meet again to discuss options for completing the project.

An attorney for the group that successfully sued the state to build trolley stops in Somerville and Medford suggested a potential for cost-savings.

Rafael Mares, vice president and director of Healthy Communities and Environmental Justice at the Conservation Law Foundation, said he hopes state consultants looking at the project consider suspending existing commuter rail service along the route.
Mares said one of the cost drivers for the project is running uninterrupted commuter rail alongside the track the trolley would follow.

Taking the closure of Government Center station as an example, Mares said that if the rail service is not operating during construction, the state could potentially save 20 percent of the project’s cost and half the construction time. The Conservation Law Foundation estimated roughly $300 million to $350 million in cost savings, which Mares called a “huge amount of money.”

The Green Line would run out to Union Square alongside the Fitchburg commuter rail line and out to Medford on the Lowell line.