By Ted Tobin
and Kyle B. Warwick
It’s been more than a quarter century since the Northwest Extension of the MBTA Red Line was completed with the opening of Alewife station in North Cambridge.
And that’s enough time, perhaps, for enough people to forget what a critical impact that sometimes controversial project began having almost immediately thereafter.
The birth of the Porter Square, Davis Square and Alewife Red Line stations led to the rebirth of entire sections of Cambridge and Somerville. At the same time, it put rapid transit to work in a way that benefitted people across all demographics: blue collar, white collar, doctors, lawyers, service employees, public employees, students and many others. Lastly, it created an important physical link between the great universities in our area and their surrounding communities.
The renaissance of Somerville’s Davis Square and Porter Square in Cambridge over the past 20 years is well documented. But even casual observers will appreciate the dynamic lifestyle and cultural excitement that fills the area every day – made possible by a vision for what the MBTA could do to best serve the public and promote economic revitalization.
For those who were persistent and courageous enough to see that project through to fruition, Somerville, Cambridge and many neighboring communities owe a rightful debt of gratitude. Unfortunately, at the state level that same leadership, persistence and courage seems to be lacking 25 years later when it comes to the long-awaited Green Line extension project.
The recently announced four-year delay of this critical initiative is a tremendous disappointment.There are over 250,000 residents of Somerville, Cambridge and Medford that are eagerly anticipating a future with better access to public transit.
Moreover, the ability of municipal governments, developers, businesses and potential capital investors to conduct long-term planning is negatively impacted by the vague timetable set forth by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and MBTA.
This is especially frustrating at a time when the state continues to encourage transit-oriented development. A real commitment needs to be made to actually creating the infrastructure that will meet these objectives.
In an economy that is still struggling to recover, the Green Line extension would produce much needed jobs for the Commonwealth, and encourage the kind of development that enhances quality of life while adhering to the state’s own vision and agenda for smart growth. Furthermore, the consistent challenge commuters face from the high cost of gas and the very fact that MBTA ridership is at its highest level in history suggest the extension project is a necessity of the most fundamental kind.
From our own experience navigating the capital markets we understand the challenges of financing projects in the current economic environment. Our own commitment to carrying through on the state’s vision for smart transit-oriented development has set the Maxwell’s Green project – an innovative residential community less than a mile from Davis Square – on a course for completion in 2012. MassDOT without question sees the value in this kind of development: the agency provided a $490,000 grant for this project to create a retaining wall for the future station, a ramp to Lowell Street and access to the Somerville Community Path.
Other projects with their own creative approaches – and the promise of further economic development - will no doubt follow in Somerville and surrounding communities. But without a concrete and transparent Green Line timetable from MassDOT and the MBTA, that process will be severely hampered. Right now the state is adding investment risk when it should be supplying predictability to the business community. The City of Somerville and neighboring communities such as Cambridge and Medford are owed a clear set of deliverables from the state on when this vital infrastructure will become reality.
The Green Line extension is a major endeavor requiring over $1 billion in investment and a creative approach to financing. But it represents a fundamental responsibility – and a promise the state has made – for which MassDOT and the MBTA must be held accountable. It also represents the very best kind of economic stimulus. The private sector will invest when it has confidence the state is ready to deliver on this project.
The quarter-century old lesson of the Red Line extension is an illustration of leadership, courage and a commitment to do what’s right for the public interest. The payoff is visible every day in Somerville, Cambridge and the surrounding area, and so that lesson bodes well for what lays ahead as a result of the Green Line extension.
It’s time for MassDOT and the MBTA to examine its own history, show true leadership and fulfill this commitment.
Ted Tobin of KSS Realty and Kyle B. Warwick of Gate Residential Properties are part of the team developing Maxwell’s Green