Green Line extension put off until 2018

By Matt Byrne
Globe Correspondent / August 2, 2011

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The long-anticipated extension of the Green Line has been delayed an additional three years, state planners said yesterday, with service to T riders in Somerville and Medford slated to begin in fall 2018 at the earliest.

The reason for the delay is a decision by transportation planners to wait to obtain all or most of the parcels of land and environmental permits the billion-dollar project requires before the state puts major design and construction out to bid, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation said in a statement.

While fall 2018 is the earliest projection, station service extending to College Avenue in Medford could be as late as 2020, the statement said. “Let me be clear: We are behind the Green Line extension,’’ said Richard Davey, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, in a phone interview. “It will get built.’’

The agency said it is taking a lesson from the reopening of the Greenbush Commuter Rail line, which was fraught with delay when planners failed to buy all the land required to complete the project before it was put out to bid. “The Green Line project team aims to prevent the issues that cost the MBTA both time and money,’’ the Department of Transportation said in the statement.

In support of that commitment, Davey pointed to a deal to buy a parcel of land owned by Pan Am Railways required for the project, that was closed late last year, he said, and his agency’s continued efforts to buy two dozen Green Line cars for the extension. Still uncertain is the fate of a 24-hour, 11-acre maintenance facility in the Inner Belt section of Somerville, which planners have yet to acquire.

Nineteen properties in Somerville and Medford must be acquired before federal environmental regulators will sign off, Joseph Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman, said in an e-mail.

The announcement of the delay, made in an annual report to the Department of Environmental Protection, came after the agency announced last July that it would push completion back a year, to 2015.

“Obviously it’s disappointing,’’ said Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which in the last year has undertaken a myriad of public meetings to hash out a second phase of the extension to Route 16 in Medford.

While acknowledging the need to buy land and acquire permits, Draisen said he suspected underlying financial instability.

“We want good roads, we want fast trains, and complete streets,’’ he said. “People want these things, but if you want them, you have to pay for them.’’

The state is legally bound to finish the Green Line project by the end of 2014 because of a lawsuit that requires the state to build non-automobile transportation projects to ameliorate the environmental impacts of the Big Dig. Davey said he and Transportation Secretary Jeffrey B. Mullan will work to “turn back the dial’’ from the 2018 projection.

Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville, a longtime Green Line proponent, said he spoke yesterday with Mullan about the delay and will seek more answers in coming weeks from transit planners, reiterating the legal obligation the state has to complete the project, and called for Governor Deval Patrick to respond to the delay.

He added: “We will hold their feet to the fire, and the governor’s administration, to make sure that happens.’’