Late Friday morning, in an online column entitled Time for ‘Adult Conversation’ on Somerville Green Line Extension, U.S. Congressman Mike Capuano called on local transportation advocates to come up with a “fall-back proposal” that would accommodate yet another round of delays on the Green Line Extension project (“GLX”).
To support his opinion, Rep. Capuano evaluated the project in simple, transactional terms — ultimately, we need to secure $557M in federal grants to complete the job — but the Federal Transportation Administration will not provide those funds unless the Commonwealth does two things: first, we must settle on a plan to properly support the overall MBTA system, and second, we must also commit to raising the $777M necessary to pay for the rest of the project.
In sum, the feds are willing to chip in for 42% of the cost for the entire GLX — but first they want our state legislature to demonstrate a renewed commitment to public transportation.
Unfortunately, our state legislature has largely avoided tackling this issue for many years — but now that the MBTA is in a state of perpetual crisis, and now that the GLX is at least five years behind schedule — the politicians are finally planning to take up the issue — next year, after the election.
Of course, making a big commitment to public transportation will require bold, progressive leadership. Some people do not think the GLX is a priority. And others worry that funding for the GLX might limit the potential for other projects around the Commonwealth — or unfairly burden those who live outside the MBTA’s service area.
But instead of approaching this debate with a determination to get the GLX done once and for all, Rep. Capuano thinks it would be wiser for us to immediately consider a less-ambitious “phasing plan” for the 4.3-mile project. He is afraid that we might not fare well in next year’s negotiation — and he worries that an “all-or-nothing” approach will leave us with nothing.
I respectfully disagree with his opinion and his suggested approach.
First of all, the GLX is not an option. The project has been mandated under the Clean Air Act as environmental remediation for all of the automobile pollution that was enabled by the Central Artery/Tunnel (“Big Dig”) highway construction project. In fact, the Commonwealth committed to this environmental remediation all the way back in year 1990.
Nevertheless, our state legislature has yet to truly fund the project. So in 2006, the Conservation Law Foundation sued the state — and the result was a settlement that called for the Commonwealth to complete the job by the end of 2014.
That deadline has already been postponed multiple times – so right now, we are simply hoping to get the job done by the end of this decade. The people of Somerville and the surrounding communities should not be asked to wait any longer.
Frankly, I am baffled by Rep. Capuano’s statement — it offers significant concessions before the negotiation has even commenced. Now, armed with this op-ed from an iconic Somerville progressive, opponents of increased funding for the MBTA are sure to stand firm in their view that the GLX isn’t a necessity. Beyond these strategic concerns, what is most troubling to me is all that Rep. Capuano’s statement fails to acknowledge…
The Green Line Extension is not merely a financial transaction. It’s an environmental issue and a public health issue. And it’s a matter of transformational importance to the people of Somerville and the surrounding communities. This is an area that has always been asked to bear the burden of supporting our regional transportation infrastructure — it’s now time that we see more of the benefits.
Instead of making plans to slow down on the GLX, we should call on our state legislature to fund the MBTA, finish the GLX, and settle on a deal that will improve public transportation and air quality throughout our entire Commonwealth.