More than 40 utility companies will need to relocate equipment to accommodate construction of the MBTA’s Green Line extension into Somerville and Medford, according to a senior designer of the project.
Mary Ainsley, senior director for design and construction of the long-anticipated and much-delayed project, offered members of the MBTA board an overview Wednesday of the scope and scale of the extension, which includes the reconstruction of eight bridges, the building of seven stations, the placement of 4.5 miles of new tracks, and the relocation of 4 additional miles of tracks.
MBTA and state transportation officials are looking to advance the expansion project, as well as commuter rail service to New Bedford, while coping with significant budget problems.
Ainsley said the project requires 39 property takings. To accommodate utility companies, she said, temporary bridges will need to be built, in part using the construction methods employed during a major bridge deck replacement that occurred last summer, known familiarly as the Fast 14. The project also will include the construction of 5,000 feet of retaining and noise wall ranging in height from 3 to 35 feet.
Ainsley said communities expecting service on the Green Line extension as early as 2015 were dismayed to learn of the project’s delay until 2019. She said she intends to issue “phasing scenarios” about service delivery to communities along the route at next month’s board meeting.
Board member Ferdinand Alvaro wondered whether Ainsley would return to the board with a plan to pay for the project.
Transportation Secretary Richard Davey jumped in and said he would speak to that at the next meeting, noting that the governor’s capital budget included funding for the earliest phases of the project. He noted that the project is legally mandated but could also be an economic boon to the areas it is slated to serve.
But Alvaro wasn’t finished.
“It gives me no comfort that we’re taking money out of state taxpayers’ pockets to pay for this. To me, we’re just burdening everybody in the Commonwealth for seven stations,” he said. “Number two, I haven’t heard anything about how much it’s going to cost to operate this extension. We’re $161 million in the hole and we don’t see any way out of that right now. That’s why we’re having all this angst about fare increases and potential service reductions. To me, as a lawyer, I understand it’s a legal commitment. But as a finance guy, whatever your commitments may be, if you don’t have the money you can’t meet your commitments, so commitments need to be modified.”
Alvaro compared the project to the Big Dig, noting that project designers and planners never considered how much it would cost to operate, a fact he said the state was still grappling with today.
Davey responded that the federal government may pick up half the tab, as much as $400 million to $500 million of the project’s cost. Alvaro wondered whether Davey had received any signals from the Obama administration about the prospect of support.
“Sometimes it’s like electing the pope,” Davey joked.
Alvaro, the lone Republican on the MBTA board, added that the country’s political picture after next year’s election could have an impact on whether the state receives federal support.
“If there is a turnover of parties in the White House … our chances of getting this funding are going to decline precipitously,” he said. “That money probably will just vaporize.”
Board member Andrew Whittle wondered whether a maintenance facility included as part of the project, which he said looked “expensive,” was a necessary component. Davey replied that it is not part of the legal requirement but is a practical necessity.
“One of the reasons why the MBTA is looking at outsourcing the Green Line maintenance, the overhaul of the cars that are coming up soon, is we don’t have the space to do it in-house,” he said.
He added that eliminating the facility would add operating costs, forcing the T to move trains longer distances to reach maintenance facilities.
Board chairman John Jenkins said that removing the maintenance facility from the project would reduce total costs by $200 million.
Ainsley said project designers are looking at opportunities to reduce the project’s overall cost.