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MBTA's Green Line Extension to move forward

New plans will now undergo federal review

The extension of the MBTA’s Green Line through Somerville and Medford will move forward, pending a federal review, after a vote of approval from top transit officials on Monday.

Members of the boards who oversee the MBTA and MassDOT on Monday voted unanimously to submit its new stripped-down plans for the project to the Federal Transit Administration. At the same time, the T will begin drafting a plan to staff the project and finance it.

The joint meeting — packed with a standing room-only crowd— came after the project was upended by news last year that the 4.5-mile-long project would cost about $1 billion more than the $2 billion officials had budgeted for it.

Since then, the T has been working on simplifying the plans. Now, $622 million has been cut from the price tag, which puts the new cost at about $2.28 billion, according to the State House News Service.

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There are caveats to that figure, the News Service reported. The $2.3 billion doesn’t include the cost of financing the project, which has previously been pegged at $300 million. The FTA could also turn down the plans, or the federal review could result in the budget being increased.

There is still no guarantee the project will be built; the state can still cancel it in the future, officials said.

As for what the new plans cut out, stations will be less substantial than the ones drawn up in previous plans: simple outdoor sheltered platforms, rather than fully enclosed train stations.

A bike and walking path that was part of the original plans has also been shortened and the size of a new MBTA maintenance facility reduced.

Unchanged are the locations of the seven new stations proposed for the Green Line.

There is a lot of pressure to see the project completed, including the nearly $1 billion in federal funding earmarked for the GLX, which will evaporate if the T doesn’t act. The T has also already dumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the project.

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Cities that stand to benefit from the project have made new commitments to helping see it through. Cambridge and Somerville last week pledged to pay $75 million.

Boston’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, meanwhile, also committed $152 million in federal funds to the project.

Even with that money, the state still comes up short, and will need to come up with a financing plan to fill a gap of about $73 million, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told reporters.

Pollack said officials will be more cautious this time as construction moves forward.The rush to complete the long-delayed projecthas been blamed by observers and transit leaders alike for the GLX’s ballooning costs.

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People were being unrealistic about what it would take to do the Green Line Extension back in 2014," Pollack told the State House News Service. "Shame on us if we make the same mistake twice, so this time we're going into it with our eyes wide open."

Another change coming to the construction process: the state will no longer use the unusual “design-bid-build” procedure it had previously used. The set-up allowed builders to complete the project in chunks, and to negotiate prices for the build in segments – another factor blamed for the spike in costs.

 
 
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