Posted by Kate Fichter, Green Line Extension Project Manager
As many of you know, MassDOT and the MBTA recently announced a new schedule for the completion of the Green Line Extension project. The new schedule, which is included in our annual Status Report to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, estimates that the Green Line Extension will now open for passenger service during the period 2018-2020.
The Department of Environmental Protection will hold two public meetings on the same day to discuss and take public comment on the annual Status Report:
Tuesday, September 13, 1:00 PM
Tuesday, September 13, 5:00-6:00pm
Washington Street Conference Center, 2nd Floor, Rooms A, B, & C MassDEP, One Winter Street, Boston
The 5:00 PM public meeting will be extended after 6:00 PM as needed to allow for all interested parties to present testimony. This public notice provides detailed information about the meetings.
Since the submission of the annual Status Report, MassDOT and the MBTA have heard from many of you with concerns and questions about the future of the Green Line Extension project. We understand these concerns and want to emphasize that MassDOT and the MBTA are in no way choosing to delay the Green Line Extension project at this point. The new schedule reflects what we believe to be a realistic and reasonable assessment of how long the project will take to complete from its current point of development, given the many complex, interrelated, and time-consuming tasks remaining. We are not slowing the pace of our work or reducing our commitment to seeing the project through. Rather, we want to share with the public our latest understanding of the project status and what we believe will be required to open the Green Line Extension to passengers.
As we described in the Status Report, MassDOT and the MBTA are not satisfied with the current anticipated schedule for the Green Line Extension project. In the service of improving the anticipated schedule, MassDOT and the MBTA have called for the creation of a small Steering Group to consider ways to improve the schedule. The Steering Group will begin its work in September. We will, of course, keep the greater Green Line Extension community informed of the ideas and progress that emerge from the Steering Group process. In the meantime, we are working hard each and every day to move the project forward.
Over the next six months, MassDOT and the MBTA anticipate a number of important milestones in the development of the Green Line Extension project, including:
- Public release of the federal Environmental Assessment, to be coupled with a public hearing and other opportunities for public comment.
- Public meetings on the design of the extension of the Somerville Community Path and the light rail vehicle support facility.
- Additional public meetings on the design of the Green Line Extension stations.
- Submission of a full application for funding from the federal New Starts program.
As always, information about the project is available at the Green Line Extension website.
A list of specific questions and concerns and answers is available after the break.
I don’t understand how the completion date for the Green Line Extension project can have changed so substantially. Can you explain the additional delay to me?
MassDOT and the MBTA have developed the new schedule because the Green Line Extension project has reached a significant milestone: the transition from planning to design. Being at that inflection point provides us with a fundamentally better and deeper understanding of the challenges and risks involved in the project than was previously available to us. MassDOT and the MBTA believed that previous schedules were attainable when we released them and that the level of detail and analysis was appropriate to the phase of project development. Since then, however, changes in the project; better understandings of the risks involved; and delays in the procurement, design, environmental, and real estate processes have made those schedules obsolete.
The new schedule also reflects the fact that certain assumptions embedded in past project schedules – assumptions about how quickly construction work could commence or how swiftly the regulatory process would move along – proved not to be true. Our partnership with the Federal Transit Administration has aided in this effort, as we have benefited from their considerable national experience of major public transit projects and their challenges.
As is the nature with all major construction projects, estimated schedules and budgets for the Green Line Extension will continue to evolve over time, both for better and for worse. We aim to keep you informed at all times, and to bring this project to completion as quickly as we can.
The revised schedule provides a more concrete estimate of the risks associated with the following challenges:
The time required to complete major property acquisition and relocations prior to the award of the Design-Build contract to complete the Green Line Extension.
Coordination with over 40 different utilities and the time required for utility relocations as part of the bridge widening work.
The fact that MBTA Commuter Rail operations must be maintained during construction, necessitating the sequencing of major bridge, retaining wall, signal, and drainage work.
In addition, entering the federal New Starts program and complying with the federal environmental processes have added complexity to the schedule and proven to be more time-consuming than originally anticipated. Additional time to finish the environmental process before starting the real estate acquisition and relocations required for the project are now included in the latest schedule for the project.
The revised schedule also takes into account lessons learned on the Greenbush Commuter Rail Restoration project, in which out-of-sequence property acquisitions slowed the overall completion of the project.
Have MassDOT and the MBTA decided to shelve work on the Green Line Extension project for the moment? No, definitely not. MassDOT, the MBTA, and their technical consultant teams are continuing to work on the Green Line Extension project at the same pace and with the same level of determination as ever. There has been no cessation or slowdown of work.
Are MassDOT and the MBTA truly committed to seeing the Green Line Extension project through to completion? Yes, unequivocally. The new schedule for the Green Line Extension project in no way reflects a diminishment of institutional commitment to the Green Line Extension project, in which we believe passionately.
I am a member of the public and I participated in the recent Station Design Workshops for the Green Line Extension project. Did I waste my time? Is the design of the project still underway? You did not waste your time, and the design of the project is most definitely still underway. The project team has been using the public input provided in June to advance the design of the stations. To further that process, a meeting of the Green Line Extension Design Working Group will be held on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 6 :30 pm at the Argenziano School in Somerville. The team will next convene general public meetings in the autumn to present the new station designs and seek additional public feedback.
How can it take so long for the MBTA to acquire the private properties required for the construction of the Green Line Extension project? In order to legally acquire private property for public purposes, the MBTA must follow a series of proscribed steps that both respect the rights of the property owner and protect the financial interests of the MBTA and the taxpayer. The MBTA is also responsible for relocating private property owners. The entire process can take 1-2 years and property acquisition cannot begin until the Green Line Extension project has received full environmental clearance.
So, when will the Green Line Extension project receive full environmental clearance? The Green Line Extension has already received state-level environmental clearance. The final step in the environmental review process is federal clearance, a necessary precondition to apply for federal funding for the project. MassDOT and the MBTA must now release for public review a federal Environmental Assessment of the project, followed by the receipt of a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) from the Federal Transit Administration. MassDOT and the MBTA anticipate that the Environmental Assessment for the Green Line Extension project will be released to the public early this autumn. The release will be coupled with a public hearing and opportunities for public comment. Once a FONSI has been issued, MassDOT and the MBTA will have full environmental approval to begin property acquisition and construction.
I want to understand the different elements of the Green Line Extension schedule better. How can I review the project schedule myself? MassDOT and the MBTA will shortly be making in-depth schedule information available on the Green Line Extension project website.
Can MassDOT and the MBTA really afford to complete the Green Line Extension project? With a price tag of approximately $1 billion, the Green Line Extension would be an expensive undertaking for MassDOT and the MBTA under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately, the current fiscal environment for transportation, at both the state and federal levels, is far from the best of circumstances. The MBTA is currently struggling to fund its most basic maintenance and operational needs, without taking into account the costs of a major system expansion like the Green Line Extension project. And while MassDOT and the MBTA have sufficient funds to sustain the design and engineering work currently underway, funding the costs of constructing the Green Line Extension remains a significant challenge.
To attempt to meet that challenge, MassDOT and the MBTA are applying for funding from the federal ‘New Starts’ program. MassDOT and the MBTA have requested that the federal government fund 50% of the ultimate costs of the Green Line Extension through the New Starts program. While we believe the Green Line Extension to be a project worthy of and competitive for New Starts funding, the underlying financial condition of the MBTA poses significant risk for the success of the Green Line Extension in the New Starts program. Successful New Starts projects require a detailed and rigorous demonstration of the fundamental financial health of the applicant transportation agency, a threshold which will be difficult for the MBTA to meet. Nevertheless, we will continue to pursue New Starts funding and try to position the Green Line Extension project to be the best applicant project that it can be.
Regardless of whether the Green Line Extension project receives federal support, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is committed to funding the project out of available state monies. Those monies will most likely be raised through the issuance of Commonwealth of Massachusetts General Obligation bonds, for which MassDOT already has sufficient authorization to cover approximately $700 million for State Implementation Plan projects (including the Green Line Extension). Additional bonding authorization would be required if the Commonwealth were to fund the Green Line Extension project fully and without federal assistance. To fund the construction of the Green Line Extension using entirely state monies will require the Commonwealth to prioritize the Green Line Extension over other capital projects and to construct it on a pace commensurate with the availability of state funds. These are the funding realities facing MassDOT and the MBTA when considering how best to support the costs of the Green Line Extension.
This new schedule obviously represents a major delay for the Green Line Extension project, which is legally required to be open for passengers on December 31, 2014. MassDOT and the MBTA feel strongly that we want to do better, and that we must try to find a way to deliver the Green Line Extension project more quickly. The new schedule also provides increased urgency to the need to decide upon interim air quality offset mitigation measures for any period of delay in the implementation of the Green Line Extension beyond December 31, 2014.
To that end, we are this month beginning an in-depth analysis of potential interim measures, and encourage you to provide us with your recommendations for beneficial air quality projects or services. In particular, MassDOT and the MBTA will welcome recommendations for interim measures that will substantially and quantitatively improve air quality by reducing the use of private vehicles. The measures will need to be in place by December 31, 2014, the deadline for the implementation of the Green Line Extension project, and to remain in place until the Green Line Extension is opened for passengers. Comments and recommendations on potential interim measures can be provided to MassDOT at the public meetings on September 13, 2011 (meeting information above) or by submitting them to Katherine Fichter at email@example.com.
MassDOT and the MBTA remain deeply committed to the Green Line Extension project, and grateful to all of you for your ongoing support. Together, we will continue to move the project forward to successful completion.