Feds Give Green Line Extension the Green Light

By Kyle Scott Clauss

The Green Line Extension cleared a crucial hurdle Tuesday, as the Federal Transit Administration approved the MBTA’s cost estimates for the long-stalled, $2.3 billion project, effectively giving it the green light.

Though Congress had agreed to pony up $1 billion for the Green Line Extension in 2015, rapidly inflating costs caused the FTA to place the project on hold, prompting the T to scale it back with the help of consultants. Meanwhile, the state has agreed to contribute $64.3 million.

The GLX, as approved Tuesday by the FTA, will expand the nation’s busiest light-rail system into Somerville and Medford, two areas sorely underserved by the T. The seven stops are expected to open by 2021.

A list obtained by the website McClatchy in January and shared with the National Governors’ Association named the Green Line Extension as one of 50 infrastructure projects deemed high priority by the incoming Trump administration.

Click here to read the full article in Boston Magazine

Curtatone: Momentous vote is a big step in the GLX project

By Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries and letters to the Editor of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)

I’ve long been outspoken – along with many of you – about the fact that the Green Line Extension is much more than just an amenity. It’s more than a promise and legal obligation from the Commonwealth. It’s a necessity to our economic and environmental vitality in Somerville and the region. And last week after many years of fighting for this project, we took a big step forward when the Somerville Board of Aldermen cast a momentous vote, voting unanimously in favor of allowing the City to bond for $50 million to contribute to the Green Line Extension project.

But let’s not forget how we got here. Just one year ago, in December 2015, MassDOT and the Fiscal Management Control Board pressed pause on the Green Line Extension project to understand risks and control costs. This was a scary time full of uncertainty. The project was in real danger of not being completed. If the project was canceled, many aspects of Somerville’s goals for the future were in danger too. The Commonwealth made it clear that the Green Line Extension could not move forward without contributions from municipalities.

That put us in an enormously tough position – a position in which we never expected to be. It wasn’t easy for me to make the decision to go before the Board of Aldermen and ask them to approve borrowing to help fund the project. Contributing to the Green Line creates a fiscal burden for our city that both the Board and I would prefer we didn’t have to take on.  But I want to assure you that we will do as much as possible to lessen that burden. To ensure that taxpayers bear as little of the cost as possible, we are already working on options to help pay off the bond via other means such as building permit revenues, developer contributions, and sale of city assets.

But when weighing the costs the Green Line Extension versus the many benefits that expanded public transportation will provide to this community, the choice became clear. Yes, the Green Line Extension will provide us with a short-term financial burden but it will deliver long-term fiscal sustainability. Among them, it will generate an estimated additional $261 million in property tax revenue over 30 years.

Beyond the monetary benefits, the Green Line will also finally bring environmental justice for some of our most vulnerable residents who currently live in the I-93 corridor and breathe the exhaust it generates daily. Extending the Green Line will reduce the vehicle miles traveled in our city by more than 25,000 miles per day. This will reduce air pollution caused by vehicle emissions known to be a threat to public health and safety.  The Green Line will also move us forward toward achieving social justice by expanding rapid transit access to more than 85 percent of our City. This will not only create more jobs here in Somerville, but it will also improve access to employment opportunities for residents by giving them a more efficient way to commute into Boston.

It was clear to me: Somerville could not afford to keep the pause button pressed on the Green Line Extension. Your aldermen recognized this too. I want to commend them for their tremendous dedication, effort, and due diligence on this issue. The vote for this project was a big deal, and they treated it as such. They held several special meetings, listened to numerous residents, always came prepared with thoughtful and detailed questions, and made sure they fully understood the scope of the impact this vote would have on residents.

I am thankful for their cautious approach to this vote, but ultimately, I’m thankful that in the end we were all on the same page: recognizing that the Green Line Extension is an essential component to the success of our collective futures.

Now, just because the vote is done doesn’t mean the hard work is complete. In fact, we have a lot to do to make sure we stay on track for the projected 2021 completion date. The Commonwealth has been successful in getting the project back on track in the procurement process, and their request for qualifications from the bidding community is open now. The request for proposals process will be initiated next spring.

We have several things to do on our end as well to ensure we’re ready for the Green Line Extension and the new development it will bring to some of our neighborhoods. Perhaps most crucial is passing an updated zoning code to ensure that we capitalize on all the opportunity the Green Line will offer so that the projected building permit revenues and developer contributions that we need to net down the cost of our contribution are realized. Additionally, we need to iron out the details of a side agreement with the Commonwealth that will allow us to explore creative ways to tie in storm water drainage to the Green Line construction, which is an enormous benefit and will mitigate some legacy flooding issues. And these are just a couple of things on our To Do list.

It’s apparent that we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do, but what happened last week was significant. We are closer than we have ever been to the Green Line finally being fully greenlighted. We couldn’t have done it without you and your active engagement and participation throughout the process. This vote was a testament to all of us once again that when called on to meet its challenges, Somerville always stands up.

Click here to read the full article in the Somerville Times.

ICYMI: Board unanimously approves GLX funds

By Joe Ruvido

The Somerville Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to approve a $50 million contribution to the Green Line Extension (GLX) project. The vote was held at the Board’s regular meeting last Thursday. The money will be bonded and paid to the state in $10 million dollar installments.

The vote was one more hurdle crossed for the once-doomed GLX project. The project was put on hold after cost estimates exceeded $3 billion last year. Consultants value-engineered the project cost down to a more reasonable $2.3 billion. The State has committed $2 billion; the shortfall will be partially filled with the $50 million approved by Somerville and an additional $25 million from Cambridge.

The project also secures funds for key infrastructure projects in Somerville, including the Union Square sewer outfall and the Nunziato Park renovation. The state-sponsored Massworks Grants which match state and local dollars for infrastructure projects are an example of these funds.

Ward 6 Alderman Lance Davis noted that Somerville will have to pay for those projects whether they voted for GLX or not. Davis used the term “extortion” to describe the state’s requirement of municipal contributions to a state infrastructure project. The use of debt-financed municipal contribution is a new approach for capital projects in Massachusetts, making Somerville’s contribution a first for both the city and the state.

While a number of aldermen expressed reservations about approving the city’s GLX funding contribution plan, a unanimous vote was ultimately recorded.

All of the aldermen gave a short speech before the votes were cast. “This is a momentous occasion for this city,” said Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston. “Having been 16 years on this board I can count on one hand the momentous votes I have taken. This is one of those votes.”

The range of emotions in the speeches reflected much of the debate revolving around the GLX funding vote. Although there is excitement for the innovation, accessibility, and opportunity an extended Green Line will bring to Somerville, there are also reservations, doubts, and some anger about the means by which it has to be funded and built.

“I don’t want to see any other city or town go through this, even if we’re the only ones who get railroaded,” chided Alderman Davis, who helped make the vote unanimous by advocating for a “yes” vote based on the aforementioned state funds that are promised alongside GLX. This influenced Ward 1 Alderman Matt McLaughlin, who came to the meeting prepared to vote no.

Board President WIlliam White was the last to speak before the vote. “The new politics is that you play neighbor against neighbor, small communities vs. large communities,” said White, who throughout the GLX process has held Mayor Curtatone and his staff to tough questioning and standards of transparency in their presentations to the public.

Nonetheless, White’s final “yes” vote sealed a unanimous approval of the GLX funds. “Look at the portraits in the back of the hall,” he said, pointing to the stills of mayors past hung on the wall at the back of the Aldermanic Chamber. “Many of them made lousy decisions!” said White, who cited lack of open space as an historical example of “lousy” zoning. “What would happen to this city twenty-five years from now if we don’t have rapid transit?”

Click here to read the full article in the Somerville Times.

ICYMI: Governor Baker announces $13.5 million for infrastructure improvements in Union Square

By Ross Blouin

This past week Governor Charlie Baker and Housing and Economic Development Secretary, Jay Ash joined Mayor Joe Curtatone and Union Square Station Associates (US2) President, Greg Karcewski, to announce a $13Million MassWorks Infrastructure grant for Union Square.

The $13M award is the largest single award given to a city or town in the MassWorks program history.  The funds will allow the city of Somerville to make extensive water and sewer improvements in Union Square and support the redevelopment of the city’s Master Development parcels in the Square.  A requirement for this grant funding is that applicants have proven shovel-ready projects that need the additional financial support to secure private sector investment. Somerville’s proposal was made more competitive because of the city’s development partner, Union Square Station Associates.  US2 has been working through the community process for over two (2) years and is poised to move forward once zoning is adopted.

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“MassWorks allows us to support public infrastructure investments generating immediate investments that bring new jobs and housing to our cities and towns,” said Governor Charlie Baker in a press release about the announcement.  “It is also one of our most flexible programs, empowering communities to seek effective solutions to local priorities, and allowing the Administration to focus on funding projects that will generate substantial, long-term regional growth.”

The MassWorks competitive grant process generated 114 applications from municipalities across the Commonwealth requesting $287 million in public infrastructure funding. The 2016 grants will generate $1 billion in private investments in these communities. “The spirit of partnership at the heart of the MassWorks Infrastructure Program is a key component of our ongoing efforts to prepare communities for economic success, and to promote strong, vibrant regions,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash.  “The public-private partnerships we advance through these infrastructure awards will build a stronger economy for everyone who lives and works in Massachusetts.”

This is the second time the Baker-Polito Administration supported Union Square’s redevelopment efforts.  In 2015 the City was awarded $3.3 million that was matched by $3.5 million in city revenues to provide major streetscape improvements to the Prospect Street section of the Square. Currently the Board of Aldermen are reviewing the zoning changes needed to advance the development of the 15 acres of land in Union Square and are expected to vote on those changes sometime this fall. Construction on Phase one is expected to begin in the fall of 2017.

Click here to read the full article in the Somerville Times.