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?”