We’ve already paid for the GLX

On January 22, 2016, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times


By William C. Shelton

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries and letters to the Editor of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)

Some high-profile advocates argue that the Green Line Extension should be built because it will stimulate economic and housing development. The mayor is telling regional media and policy makers that the GLX will lead to 30,000 new Somerville jobs and 10,000 new homes. Yes, 10,000!

Indeed, increased commercial-tax-revenue and jobs are essential reasons why we need it. But the Green Line should be extended through Somerville for a more compelling reason: justice.

For almost three generations, no other city in the Commonwealth has borne more burdens to support regional transportation while reaping fewer benefits. We have already paid for the GLX—with a blockaded street grid, crumbling bridges, stunted economic development, lethal pollution, and shortened lives for our citizens.

In the early 1970s, I-93 ripped up East Somerville, demolishing homes, scattering families, and isolating Ten Hills and Assembly Square. But that was the least of its damage.

Public concern regarding air pollution reached its historical peak in 1970. That year the Commonwealth commissioned Bolt Beranek and Newman to quantify the pollution that the I-93 extension would produce, and the Clean Air Act was amended on December 31.

BB&N published its study the following April. Even though it underestimated I-93/Route 38 traffic at what would be half it’s actual levels, it pollution at five times the federal limits.  Massachusetts buried the report and proceeded with construction, fully aware of the six regulated pollutants’ and lead’s health impacts.

But at the time, few knew that all the vehicles travelling to somewhere else along I-93, McGrath Highway, Route 38, and through Union Square were pumping out far deadlier pollutants.

One of my all-time favorite ‘Villens was Joe Lapiana who, with his wife Dolores, raised a family on Pennsylvania Avenue in the shadow of I-93. They led Somerville Citizens for Adequate Transportation (SCAT), a grassroots group that fought to build the expressway below grade.  When he was dying in 2005, there was some question as to whether his heart disease or his lung cancer would kill him first.

Joe had spent much of his life inhaling air that contained up to 1.6 million ultrafine particles per cubic inch, produced by passing cars and trucks. Exhaustive scientific research has established that these particles are killers. Their impact is more lethal than pollutants regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, and much more local.

That’s why Somerville has such a high incidence of heart disease and lung cancer, even though we have no significant sources of industrial air pollution and below-average incidence of tobacco smoking. The last time I checked, Somerville had the highest number of excess deaths per square mile from heart attacks and lung cancer among Massachusetts’ 351 cities and towns.

In response to SCAT protests and evidence of I-93’s impacts, the Commonwealth in 1972 agreed to build an East Somerville community center, plant trees, and erect walls along the expressway to partially reduce noise and pollution. State officials ended up reneging on even these wholly inadequate “mitigations.”

Today, over 200,000 vehicle miles per square mile are travelled through Somerville per day—the most in the Commonwealth. And people who live or are stopping in Somerville account for a microscopic fraction of that traffic.

That’s not the only burden we bear so that other people can get where they want to go. Six diesel rail lines lacerate our neighborhoods, truncate our streets, and spew carcinogens, huge volumes of ultrafine particles, and twenty times the nitrogen oxides emitted by equivalent gasoline engines. That’s 15,000 trips per Somerville square mile per year—again, the most in the Commonwealth.

But none of them stop here.

While we receive no benefits, the Commonwealth and the MBTA seem indifferent to the burdens they impose. It took them 2,245 days to put the disintegrating Lowell Street Bridge back into service.  And there are plenty more Somerville bridges that have required rebuilding or desperately need structural attention.

Many of those who drive and ride through Somerville are on their way to Boston or Cambridge, which both have 1.8 jobs per working resident. In Somerville we have 0.5 jobs per working resident, a majority of which are in low-wage and part-tine sectors with limited-benefits. Although we have a skilled workforce, 80% of us who have jobs must leave the city each day to work.

That’s because our city doesn’t have office and R&D space that can accommodate job growth.  Over the twenty years between 1990 and 2010, the total square footage of Somerville’s commercial space increased by only 4%.

Commercial development is finally increasing in Assembly Square because it is served by a new T stop.  But these increases are swamped by citywide housing development, worsening our fiscal health and live/work balance.

Beyond Assembly Square, the neighborhoods with the greatest job- and property-tax-creation potential are Union Square/Boynton Yards and Brickbottom/Inner Belt. Fully unleashing their potential requires extending both Green Line spurs.

The Court understood the burdens imposed upon Somerville when it approved a 1991 consent decree mandating transit investments—including the Green Line extension—to mitigate Big-Dig environmental impacts. But although state officials invested hundreds of millions in low-impact suburban projects, they did nothing on the Green Line until 2006 litigation forced their hand.

Finally, in 2010 MassDOT announced that the GLX would become operational in October 2015. But in August we learned that, after already spending $750 million in unrecoverable expenses, the MBTA was anticipating Green Line costs $1 billion over budget.

Now state officials seem intent on extorting cash from the City of Somerville and developers like US2 to help pay for their mistakes. Astonishingly, some city officials appear ready to bargain.

But as Bill White observed in his inaugural address this month, “We [already] have more skin in the game than anyone else. Enough is enough… If we have to pay for the Green Line though property taxes, we could end up losing money in the deal.” And if the state shakes down developers, it will expropriate the surpluses required to fund community benefits.

‘Villens are in no way responsible for the gross incompetence that blew apart the Green Line budget. We have been paying to support regional transportation for a half century. What we owe today is exactly $0.00.


25 Responses to “We’ve already paid for the GLX”

  1. Matt says:

    Well said, overall we need to look at how we can quickly and efficiently improve our mass transportation infrastructure as well as how we fund it. We need to look at ideas like the indigo line and extend their reach across all of our urban core right of ways. To pay for this we should look to tools like congestion fees using existing technology like pay-by-plate as well as ezpass as well as funding general infrastructure based on use (pay per mile driven) and proper tolling to make sure that out of state commuters are paying for their usage..

  2. Freebie says:

    Wow – awesome points here Bill. We deserve it and we’re gonna get it.

  3. Abba says:

    The article hits some good points, but misses a couple of very important points:
    1) Somerville contributes about 5 million dollars per year in MBTA assessments (Medford about 3.6 million dollars). What do they get for that money? Not much. Until just last year Somerville only had 1 MBTA station, at its distant outskirts that actually serves very little of the city plus another T stop with subway and commuter rail in Cambridge that is relatively close for a few residents. Assembly Square’s opening last year added one more stop at the far outskirts of the city serving very little of the city. Similarly, Medford has only one T stop at the far outskirts serving very little of the its population. We pay about as much to the MBTA as Newton does, which is well served by the Green Line, and a commuter rail line with three stops. I would say we are OWED skin, rather than we need to put some skin in the game. We’ve been paying out the nose for very little service (and they want to shove a maintenance facility in our cramped city on top of it).
    2) The latest $3B estimate puts the GLX project way, way more expensive per mile than any other similar project in the US. The method of contracting was relatively new, and disastrous because it allowed the contractor to escalate the price to whatever they wanted to. Change the contracting method, and I suspect the costs will fall more in line with similar US projects. If so, then no one needs to worry about putting extra skin in the game.
    Another thing to note is that this project keeps getting delayed (2011, then 2014, then…) and the state is supposed to provide interim offset mitigation for the delays. How about the state pick up any cost overruns as a way of mitigating the delays? Doesn’t improve the environment any, other than that it means the GLX gets built instead of cancelled, but I’d take it.

  4. Genie Geronimo says:

    Good piece, Bill.

    It bugs me that people out there have such short memories & forget the 25+ year history of this project & that there’s a longstanding environmental reason behind it.

    Baker could either do the predictable Republican thing & try to burnish his conservative credentials (nationally) by throwing urban folks under the bus & pitting suburb vs. urban in the interest of “fiscal responsibility” – or be the hero & “save” the greenline, thus earning respect from a good chunk of urban voters along the way.

  5. A Moore says:

    Any new contracts made will still be made to enable increases in the contract. There will be no set price for the job in reality. Trying to go from the 3 billion to the 2 billion is not going to happen. It could go to 12 billion easily considering the years it will take. There also is no money to do this. We will be getting this money from a country deep in debt and getting deeper by the day. And by delaying it I would think it would and up increasing the cost. Either get started or dump the project.

  6. O. Cobblepot says:

    Reality check: Governor Charlie Baker is a well-known crook who is under full investigation for numerous crimes and cases of malfeasance. He won’t last the year.

    Also, GLX is coming in all its glory. All aboard!

  7. Jonathan May says:

    The company is called BBN. BB&N is Buckingham Browne and Nichols, the prep school.

  8. Erin k says:

    Yes that is right. Baker is knee deep into a graft and bribery scandal that will prove to be historic in proportions. The corrupt republican empire is crumbling all around us and he is just the latest domino to be tipped over. This could not be happening to a more deserving guy.

  9. Cece says:

    What a nasty person. And talk about backing the wrong side. Baker is as crooked as they come. Whatever.

  10. O. Cobblepot says:

    No, darling. You’re the big link provider here. So have at it. What I’m talking about is common knowledge. Your being so out of touch with the real world and what’s going on in it is your problem and no surprise to any of us. Why you keep stinking up this place with your nonsensical views and insulting behavior though is a mystery to me, since it’s not going over with anyone in their right mind. But you are funny, I’ll say that much.

  11. Oliver Seppo says:

    Hey Pixie, what are you talking about? One day soon you may get some terrible illness that will force you to sell your dump. On that day, do you really want to have a tanked RE market?

  12. Ed Hearn says:

    This is all over the news. How out of it is this woman?

  13. robbo says:

    Pixie, Tufts gives almost a half a million dollars a year to the city in lieu of taxes. Your easy to disprove assertion causes me to question your other points.

  14. Angela says:

    Judgement day? Wow what a nut!

  15. Matt says:

    The city and all its residents benefit most for the GLX. Developers only have an opportunity to make money when residents sell or partner with them to redevelop property.

    Charlie Baker, like any of the politicians is “corrupt” meaning they trade favors – that’s just how stuff gets done in politics, here as well as any other place in the country. Imagining that it is not the case is delusional.

    Robbo – Tufts participates in a payment in lieu of taxes program. Under the latest agreement, established in 2013, Tufts gives Somerville $1.375 million over five years, or $275,000 each year. This is well below what they should.

    The fear of people being priced out of the city because of the GLX is, at this point, stupid. People will be and have been priced out of the city because its a great place to live with arts, road races, entertainment and proximity to Boston. Could the GLX accelerate this, perhaps, should we stop the project because of that? No.

  16. Matt says:

    Pixi did you see a drop in prices around proposed glx stops relative to the rest of the region when your buddy Charlie suggested stopping the glx? Neither did I. The only reason you can account for that is either the market knows it’s going to happen, or prices are not being set on the expectation that it will happen.

    Your imaginary figure of a homes value going up 300% post glx reminds us just how much you don’t understand economics or markets. Please find us an example of a home being forced to sell at 25% of its market value rather than spewing lies and conjecture.

  17. Genie Geronimo says:

    Well that didn’t take long. The new Times database is off to the races with a fresh dose of Pixie.

  18. Gail Thornton says:

    With yet more corruption to come. Alas.

  19. Villenous says:

    Not for nothing, if the economy tanks, it will drive down labor and material costs, making the GLX more affordable.

  20. MarketMan says:

    It’s BBN. BB&N is a private school.

  21. JPM says:

    I am not sure we should have a GLX when the Red Line is falling to pieces – both in terms of station and track infrastructure and rolling stock. Barely a few days goes by without a signals or points failure or broken down train. I commute on it every day so I know! Often there is no A/C in cars in the summer or no heat in the winter. I have been using it since 2006 as a daily commuter and the service has really deteriorated. It’s a shambles.

  22. A Moore says:

    Not to worry Villenous. We are now spending several million dollars to study the problem. We can’t waste that to fix the red line.

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