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Proponents rap delay to extend Green Line

But state officials say 2-year wait may save $300m

Supporters of the long-delayed Green Line extension into Somerville and Medford said yesterday that they are frustrated that state officials plan to postpone the project another two years to seek federal funding, despite a November court settlement in which they agreed to complete the extension of the rail line by 2014.

But Governor Deval Patrick and other officials contend the money taxpayers could save, roughly $300 million, is worth the wait.

In 1990, state officials promised residents the Green Line extension, with an estimated cost of $600 million, and several other mass transit projects to compensate for escalated traffic and pollution from Big Dig construction. The Conservation Law Foundation, a legal advocacy group, sued the Commonwealth in 2005 for stalling the projects, but settled last year when the government agreed to a set of deadlines for each project. Now, the group says, officials are backing down on that pledge.

"The need for this project is absolutely clear, and its feasibility is also beyond dispute," said Philip Warburg, the foundation's president. "The only obstacle now is the lack of good faith delivery on the Commonwealth's part."

A $12 billion capital plan unveiled by Patrick this week included $20 million in fiscal 2008 for the projects promised in last year's settlement, which include 1,000 additional parking spaces for commuter rail stations, design work on the Red Line-Blue Line connector, and a revamp of the Fairmount commuter rail line. Those projects are expected to be completed by their original deadlines, said Cyndi Roy, a Patrick spokeswoman.

The Green Line project, which will receive $4.7 million in fiscal 2008 under Patrick's plan, has the best chance of winning federal support, Roy said.

"The administration is taking the steps necessary to fulfill the commitments that were made in the closing days of the prior administration," she said. "We see the value in the project, but we also see the value in not saddling the taxpayer with an additional $300 million."

Officials have already started searching for a consultant for the environmental review and conceptual engineering for the Green Line project, Roy said, and they expect to have the position filled by the fall. The administration will work with federal officials to streamline the funding process to save time, she added.

But some residents of Somerville and Medford said they have waited long enough.

"Every day that goes by, every month and every year, people in this area are still burdened by this bad air quality, which is only going to continue to get worse," said Ken Krause, of the Medford Green Line Neighborhood Alliance. "We don't want to pit one project against another, but this is one that's been on the books for 17 years and one that the state committed to do."

A report earlier this year by the Transportation Finance Commission indicated the state is facing a $15 billion to $19 billion transportation funding gap.

To close that gap, the state will need both state and federal funds, said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and a member of the commission.