Green Line Gripes: Train Stops Short of Medford

By Andy Metzger Wicked Local Somerville Posted Jul 09, 2010 @ 12:41 PM Somerville —

When Somerville and Cambridge officials gathered this May to announce an agreement on a new site for the Green Line Extension’s maintenance facility, they were greeted with skepticism from some.

Last Wednesday evening, as the project manager moderated a public hearing about the Final Environmental Impact Report at Somerville High School, the Option L site for the facility was one of three common complaints raised by local politicians and others. The other two complaints were the state’s decision not to continue the extension out to Medford’s Hillside neighborhood and not to pay for the construction of a bike path through Somerville.

Option L

Though it has been moved from Yard 8 next door to the Brickbottom Studios, the new location of the maintenance facility on Inner Belt Road near a Commuter Rail facility has drawn some criticism.

“We believe the Yard 8 option proved that such a noxious activity belongs nowhere near residents,” said Somerville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Stephen Mackey, according to his prepared remarks. “We believe that Option L will prove to everyone to be too costly and take too much time.”

Mackey said the state should use its own land rather than negotiating land sales from four nearby businesses at an estimated $51 million cost.

But in a phone interview, project manager Katherine Fichter said the MBTA-owned rail yard nearby could not be used for Green Line maintenance. The Boston Engine Terminal is “at capacity” and combining maintenance of Commuter Rail trains and Green Line trolleys is unsafe and against federal regulations, she said. The state needs 11 acres, almost all of which the state will need to acquire, through sales, not eminent domain takings, from Inner Belt businesses.

Another business consideration for the area is that Bob Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and the New England Revolution, has looked at the Inner Belt as the potential site of a Revolution soccer stadium. Fichter said Kraft’s business concerns were not a factor in the state’s planning, and Kraft’s spokesman, Stacey James, said the site of the maintenance facility changes nothing for the sports mogul, who “continues to look at possibilities… there’s been nothing formal at this point.”

Option L is farther away from any residential areas than other MBTA maintenance facilities. Washington Street and the McGrath Highway separate the site from any residentially zoned neighborhoods, though some people live at the Brickbottom Studios.

The Green Line’s largest maintenance facility, Riverside in Newton, is next to a hospital and separated by Route 128 from a residential neighborhood. Cleveland Circle, a yard smaller than the one proposed in Somerville, is within a business district and next to some houses. A few trees are all that separate another, smaller yard at the end of the B Line from nearby houses.

The Cabot Yard on the Red Line, near Andrew Station, is substantially larger than the proposed Somerville yard, and lies right in between South Boston and the South End. Wellington on the Orange Line, in contrast, is in an industrial area of Everett, similar to the Inner Belt.

Community path

Politicians at Wednesday’s hearing had two major messages to the state — pay for a bike path, and extend the Green Line out to Route 16.

“Even though this area is close to transit, it’s so automobile-oriented,” said state Rep. Denise Provost, D-Somerville. “Put back all the connectivity that got ripped out.”

Long before the Expressway bisected the city, Somerville was crisscrossed with trolley tracks. Somerville’s Community Path now runs along an old, abandoned train line, but ends at Cedar Street.

The Department of Transportation, which is running the extension project, has agreed to cover the engineering costs of extending the path out to the North Point development, just across the river from Boston, but it will not pay for the construction.

Far from a simple paving job, the cost of building the path could add up to $20 million or $30 million, said Fichter.

“It’s not a simple bike path,” Fichter said.

“Building to Route 16 and putting in the Community Path will save money and will add value,” said state Sen. Patricia Jehlen. She said it made sense to do these projects all at once rather than putting them off.

However, he state’s plan contained in the Final Environmental Impact Report is to end the extension line at College Avenue, near Tufts University. The Draft Environmental Impact Report had the line ending farther out, near Medford’s border with Arlington.

“We feel that the project is quite complete,” said Fichter, though she also said “there’s always a mechanism for continuing to change a project that has a completed Environmental Impact Report.”

The method for doing that would be a notice of project change.

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