Congressman Michael Capuano warned that if the planned MBTA Green Line extension faces too many cutbacks, Massachusetts could lose $1 billion in federal funding, and potentially burn bridges on any future infrastructure plans.
Consultants were hired after the expected costs for the Green Line extension into Somerville and Medford ballooned from about $2 billion to almost $3 billion. Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the MBTA fiscal control board, described potential cutbacks to the plan as “on the side of brutal” at a monthly meeting of the transportation board.
In a recent interview with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio, Capuano said that the cutbacks could threaten the availability of federal funds not only to this project, but to future projects in the state. “Let me be clear,” Capuano said. “If they walk away from this billion dollars, this billion dollars does not come back to Massachusetts. It goes to another state. It goes far away, probably in the South or the West, and it puts the Green Line, and any other project the MBTA wants to do, at the back of the line for applications.”
According to Capuano, many of the cutbacks proposed could possibly jeopardize federal funding, if the plan no longer meets regulations. “There’s some debate right now whether they can cut out any stops,” Capuano said. “...I asked them what could be done and what are the parameters within which the state can operate without jeopardizing that billion dollars. We specifically talked about whether they could cut out stops, including Union Square, and they are of the opinion that they probably cannot do it and still meet the federal requirements.”
The federal regulations dictate that the extension consists of seven stops, and clean air regulations are affected by the number of stops, the numbers of riders, and the environmental impact, Capuano says.“There’s some question about whether, if they cut out a stop, and took out, for the sake of discussion, five or six thousand riders a day, whether they could still meet those environmental requirements,” Capuano said. “It’s suspect that they could, but it’s not finally determined yet.”
If the environmental requirements aren’t met, Capuano said it could potentially destroy trust between the state and the federal government. “I guarantee you, if the state changes the project so much to then walk away from $1 billion, the federal government will look at every other application the state makes from this point forward with a very suspect eye, because they going to say, wait a minute, you lied to us about the biggest project you have at the moment, and wonder, are you possibly lying to me about the one you’re about to apply for?” Capuano said. “Walking away from this money is crazy—it’s crazy financially, and it’s crazy for the future of transportation in this state.”
Capuano emphasized that the $1 billion in federal money was separate from the annual allocation of federal funds to the state. “This is separate money, coming from a general fund from the federal government, that is given out in grants for these types of large projects all across the country,” Capuano said. “There’s one in Maryland, there’s one in Los Angeles, there’s on in New York City. These are the biggest projects around, they cannot be done by the state alone, they have to be done with the federal government, and that’s normal, that’s the way it’s always been done.”
Walking away from this money is crazy—it's crazy financially, and it's crazy for the future of transportation in this state.
Consultants hired to review the extension proposal reported that the planned stations were overly expensive, and could be substantially cut back. According to Capuano, some proposed locations, including Union Square in Somerville, could see only commuter stations, or no stations at all. “There are other options,” Capuano said. “I’m not going to draw a conclusion yet, I’m sure they’re looking at everything (as they should) but in the final analysis, I only have two caveats. Number one is that it gets built in a reasonable period of time, and number two is that they don’t walk away from $1 billion of federal money. If they do anything to jeopardize that money in a serious way, I think you’ll hear a different tune from me, and maybe from others.”
Despite the setbacks, Capuano says he thinks the extension will, eventually, come together. “I firmly believe that in the final analysis, it will get built,” he said. “Will it be built a little bit differently? Yeah, absolutely, and maybe some of the Cadillac-type of approach they’re taking to stations and some other things, maybe will change a little bit… the timeline might be changed a little bit, it won’t be changed a lot. I’m trying to be flexible here, you know? If I were in their situation, I would be doing the exact same thing they’re doing.”
The fiscal control board is expected to make a decision in May regarding the continuation of the project.
To hear more from Congressman Capuano’s interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio link above.