This past winter, we found out for sure that the first subway system in America – and still the fifth-largest – is far from the best, but despite the fact that too much white put the T billions in the red, the MBTA is moving forward to expand the Green Line nearly 5 miles, or about one mile for every $2 billion the T is currently in debt.
While the project involves what MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo calls four “overlapping” phases, the most noticeable element of the Green Line Extension (GLX) is currently the moving of Lechmere Station from one side of Monsignor O’Brien Highway to the other.
Though the East Cambridge station that currently marks the northern end of the Green Line is named for a store that went out of business decades ago and is rumored to have been intended as a “temporary” station from the start, Lechmere is in the process of becoming a gateway to other suburbs.
According to the T, the expansion is justified by the traffic increases that were brought on by the Big Dig and is going forward despite the T’s crushing debt and complaints about the existing system by riders who suggest fixing what is before adding to it.
“The station is old,” said one rider, “but so is the entire system. We need to fix what we have first before we add to it.”
Many who live and work in the areas that will now be reached, however, are excited about the transformation of the 1922 station into a sparkling new fully-accessible glass and steel edifice that will serve as a gateway to Somerville and Medford and also offer extended platforms for trains that are longer than the typical two cars, parking for nearly 300 bicycles, and access to the Somerville Community Path.
“With GLX construction already underway at multiple sites in the City of Somerville, we are excited to see progress on the relocation of Lechmere Station,” said Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, calling the Lechmere project, “an important step.”
According to Pesaturo, GLX will result in the addition of six new stations, 24 new light rail vehicles, a new vehicle maintenance facility, and a community bicycle and pedestrian path to the T while also relocating some existing commuter rail track.
“Once completed,” Pesaturo said, “trains will operate every five to six minutes in the peak period, providing fast and efficient service to Boston, and resulting in an estimated 37,900 transit trips per day.”
Pesaturo calls the 4.7-mile light rail extension “critical” because it will serve densely-populated where 26 percent of residents do not have access to cars. Pesaturo also cites “strong support” from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is contributing nearly $1 billion in grants and other support.
"Bringing light rail to Somerville and Medford will connect residents to work, education and other opportunities while making it easier than ever to access downtown Boston,” explains U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Local legislators are also excited about GLX.
“Our community has long fought for and awaited the arrival of the Green Line,” Mayor Curtatone notes, “which will bring 85 percent of our residents within a half mile of public transit, connecting them to jobs, healthcare, education and opportunity, and bring economic and environmental justice to our city.”
According to a 2014 report, the Extension plan was slated to be completed by 2019, with the first station opened in 2017. In addition to building a new station, a new viaduct is in the works to carry the tracks that will eventually extend into the new communities.
After a lawsuit related to the environmental impact of the Big Dig, the State was required to have the Extension finished by 2014. However, the MBTA has since announced that it will be delayed until at least 2018 as many of the land parcels and permits are still being obtained. Despite delays and debt, the project is clearly moving forward, much to the pleasure of area residents.
“We are excited to see all of the hard work of MassDOT and the MBTA to finally bring this project to fruition,” Curtatone says.