$770m transit plans announced
Somerville branch would add $100m
State officials announced yesterday that Somerville's Union Square would get a separate branch of the Green Line extension, adding $100 million to the cost of transit projects promised to offset the environmental impact of the Big Dig.
The list of commitments totals $770 million and calls for building stations on the Fairmount Line, which runs through Hyde Park, Mattapan, and Dorchester; doubling service on the Worcester-Boston commuter rail line; and adding 1,000 parking spaces at as-yet unspecified commuter rail and transit stations throughout the Boston region.
The roster of projects does not include two on the original 1990 list: restoring the Arborway trolley service in Jamaica Plain and building a connection between the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's Red and Blue subway lines.
Their absence has upset some environmentalists, who say they will continue to pursue a federal lawsuit seeking to force the state to follow through on the original list of transit commitments.
''What we're really concerned about is that we're getting one transit commitment, as opposed to the package of transit commitments the Commonwealth has long promised the people of Boston," said Philip Warburg, president of the Conservation Law Foundation.
The new list now goes to regional planners and to state environmental regulators for their review. The projects would be funded by a mix of state and federal money.
The largest of the projects by far would be what officials are calling the enhanced Green Line extension, which would include branches with trolley service to both West Medford and Union Square, similar to the various Green Line branches in Boston, Brookline, and Newton. At an estimated $559 million, it would be one of the largest MBTA expansions since the mid-1980s and is scheduled to be completed between 2011 and 2014.
''We hope and expect to make that schedule," Secretary of Commonwealth Development Douglas I. Foy said. ''I think we've got a package that is overwhelmingly impressive as an investment. . . . This is a clear winner."
Foy said the plan nearly doubles the air-quality benefits and transit-ridership increases required under the 1990 agreement, which he helped develop as president of the Conservation Law Foundation.
The state promised the projects to avoid a lawsuit over concerns that the $14.6 billion Big Dig ''would consume and become all of transportation in Massachusetts."
He said the new project list offers ''the most bounce for the ounce" on improving air quality and luring more commuters to transit. The Green Line extension, for example, is predicted to draw between 10,000 and 14,000 new transit riders a day.
Foy unveiled the list before enthusiastic crowds at Union Square and then at Dorchester's Four Points neighborhood near a proposed Fairmount line station.
''Most of us today just can't quite believe we're here," said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville, who said that the proposed Green Line extension would bring faster service to a section of his city that now depends on buses and that the project could spark an economic revival.
Somerville officials say the extension would encourage development of several hundred acres of underused land and eventually add $4 billion to taxable business real estate.
Medford officials, however, have several concerns about a Green Line branch ending in West Medford. That could become a key sticking point, because state officials say that without the extension reaching into that community, both the air quality and ridership numbers drop, making the project less attractive for federal funding.
''Quite honestly, we want to see public transportation expanded, but we want to make sure that whatever expansion takes place, it doesn't impact negatively in any way on our community," Mayor Michael J. McGlynn of Medford said at the morning announcement in Union Square.
Besides the Green Line, the state plans to spend nearly $100 million to build four new stations along the long-neglected Fairmount Line.
For decades, commuter trains on the line have rumbled through the neighborhoods, but a limited number of station stops made it difficult for residents to ride them. T officials project that ridership on the line would jump from 2,800 per day now to about 7,300 daily once the four new stations are built.
''It's one of the better upgrades in transit we've made in a long time in the city," said Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
Warburg said that while he supports the Fairmount enhancements, pollution would be cut more by replacing the diesel trains with electric trolleys.
Some environmentalists also raised questions about the presence of the state's top environmental official at yesterday's ceremony at Union Square.
''I am concerned that it's a symbol that a rubber stamp is going to be put on this plan and that a really critical, incisive analysis is not going to be done on these projects," said Eloise P. Lawrence, staff lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation.
But Robert Golledge, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said he has been strictly objective in looking at the Big Dig transit commitments. He said he was invited to the ceremony by Foy and was there to accept a letter from state Transportation Secretary John Cogliano asking Golledge to begin the review process.
''I think my record to date on the issue is one which I take very seriously," Golledge said, citing his past letters to state officials urging them to improve air quality and to speed up decisions on the transit projects.
''I take my responsibility very seriously," he said, ''and my record shows that I'm anything but a rubber stamp."
Mac Daniel can be reached at email@example.com.