Green Line extension divides city

Green Line seen as boon or bane

Email|Print| Text size + By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / January 27, 2008

Knowing what the Red Line extension did for Davis Square, Somerville officials and residents have pressed hard to bring the Green Line to Union Square and up through the city. Community members have packed project meetings, wearing green glow-stick necklaces and "Got T?" buttons to show their support.

But in Medford, where the line would end, people are divided. Some see the extension the same way that those in Somerville do, as a chance to enhance their neighborhoods, raise property values, and connect with the region. Others contend that property values would decline - or, if not, that gentrification brought by the T would price longtime residents out of Medford. Many worry that the state would seize land to build the project and are concerned that outsiders trying to catch the T would jam already crowded city streets. They disagree about where the line should end, and whether it should enter Medford at all.

Most of all, many in Medford feel they haven't had a say in a looming project that could change their community significantly. Underscored by tension over whether Medford is, or should be, more like Somerville or more like western neighbor Arlington, those feelings poured forth at a standing-room-only meeting at Medford City Hall Wednesday night. State officials came to the city to explain the Green Line extension and seek input as they finalize the route and station locations.

With 200 in attendance, some cheered when people declared support for the Green Line, as Medford resident and real estate agent Elizabeth Bolton did. "The thought of the T coming to Medford is just an amazing and fabulous opportunity," said Bolton, who touted the MBTA-enabled transformation of Cambridge's Porter Square, where she used to live. "It's life-changing."

Louder applause went to those who said they liked aspects of the project but would oppose physical, noise, or visual impacts, as Mayor Michael J. McGlynn did when he vowed to fight eminent-domain takings or an attempt to put a Green Line maintenance yard in Medford.

Still, the loudest applause went to those who voiced frustration and said Medford residents had been given little chance to provide input to a project that seemed ordained by officials elsewhere. "It sounds to me as if it's almost carved in granite," said Gwen Blackburn, a West Medford resident who drew multiple ovations. "I'm concerned that we may not even have a voice as to what goes in our city at all."

Stephen M. Woelfel, the lead state official for the project, tried to reassure the crowd that the details are still being developed, with plenty of time for input.

"We're trying to make this project work for everyone," said Woelfel, manager of statewide transit planning for the Executive Office of Transportation, which oversees the Green Line extension; when complete, the project will be owned and operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. "We're in the beginning of the process."

Planners have talked about extending the Green Line beyond East Cambridge for nearly half a century, though the state did not commit to the project until 1990, when it pledged to make multiple transit improvements to avoid a lawsuit from the Conservation Law Foundation threatening to block the Big Dig highway project. A state transit-improvement plan, required because Massachusetts failed to meet federal Clean Air Act standards, filed the next year promised that the Green Line would be extended to Ball Square in Somerville or Tufts University in Medford by the end of 2011.

Nonetheless, the state largely ignored the project, as Big Dig costs soared above $14 billion. But pressure from the Conservation Law Foundation, Somerville officials, and others brought the Green Line extension back to the fore. The state negotiated for an extension through 2014. Then officials last summer said the project may be delayed two more years while they seek federal funding for half the estimated cost of $600 million. But in a sign of commitment in November, Governor Deval Patrick proposed a bond bill calling for the state to borrow enough money to complete the project, whether or not the federal funds come through.

Meanwhile, the Executive Office of Transportation has been refining the project. In 2004-05, the transportation office conducted a project study and analysis of alternatives, such as new commuter rail stops or a Silver Line-style bus, that incorporated public input and solidified the basic plan to run the Green Line through Somerville and into Medford on streetcars alongside the commuter rail. In late 2006, the transportation office formally notified state environmental officials about the project, and the secretary of environmental affairs responded with a 16-page certificate that established the work and analysis the transportation office would need to perform for an environmental impact report.

That's where the project stands. The office is working on the report, which will incorporate public input and answer a host of important questions, such as where the stations would go, what they would look like, what the noise and visual effects would be, and what land would be needed to accommodate the expanded railroad right-of-way. The state's top environmental official also called for the project to be completed in a way that maximizes transit and environmental benefits and enhances the character of the project's communities.

In the process, the transportation office will also decide whether the extension should end at Tufts or continue through Medford's Hillside neighborhood to Route 16 and the Mystic River. It will also evaluate how best to route the T to Union Square.

Some in Medford believe the community should have already reached a consensus on the project, for the sake of self-advocacy.

The City Council last week approved a resolution calling on the mayor to hire a full-time planner to focus on the Green Line and seek state funds.

"Somerville is driving the bus on this, and Medford should at least be copiloting somewhere along the way, and have a unified voice about what we want," said City Councilor Frederick N. Dello Russo, who leads the council's transportation subcommittee.

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