Green Line Extension
The Green Line Extension (sometimes abbreviated as GLX) is an initiative to expand transit services in Greater Boston by extending the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Green Line light rail beyond its current northern terminus at Lechmere Station in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The 4.3-mile (6.9 km) extension is intended in order to improve mobility and regional access for residents in the densely populated municipalities of Somerville and Medford, two cities currently underserved by the MBTA relative to their population densities, commercial importance, and proximity to Boston.
The project would provide Green Line service beyond a relocated Lechmere Station to College Avenue in Medford and to Union Square in Somerville using a two-branch operation, both to be operated within existing MBTA commuter rail rights-of-way. The extension is projected to have a total weekday ridership of about 52,000. The Green Line would see an increase in boardings of 30,700, and the MBTA system would see between 7,000 and 8,000 new transit users.
While on the drawing board since 1990, the project has proceeded in fits and starts. Construction finally broke ground on Phase 1 of the Green Line Extension in 2012, with service targeted to begin in 2020.
- A main branch, 3.4-mile (5.5 km) long, to Medford within the existing MBTA Lowell Line commuter rail right-of-way with five stations and the terminus at College Avenue in Medford. The “Medford Branch” will become part of the Green Line "D" Branch, with intermediate stations located at Washington Street, Gilman Square, Lowell Street, and Ball Square.
- A second branch, approximately 0.9-mile (1.4 km) long, to Union Square in Somerville. This branch would follow the existing Fitchburg Line commuter rail right-of-way and includes a single station at Union Square. The "Union Square Branch" will become part of the Green Line "E" Branch.
Additionally, the project will include acquisition of 24 new Green Line vehicles and construction of a support facility for storage and servicing of the fleet and existing north side Green Line operations.
The original plans called for a further station, Route 16, at the Mystic Valley Parkway in West Medford, as well as an intermediate stop at Winthrop Street and Boston Avenue at the northern edge of the Tufts campus. The Winthrop Street stop was dropped from plans due to the proximity of other stations and neighborhood opposition, while the Route 16 station was placed on hold due to cost issues. In 2011, the Boston MPO decided to allocate funding in the 2016-2020 time period for the Route 16 station.
Though the Tremont Street Subway was originally built to remove streetcars from the surface streets of downtown Boston, by the time of the Boylston Street Subway extension to Kenmore Square in 1914 provisions were made for the future conversions of the tunnel to use heavy rail metro rolling stock for faster service on suburban extensions. The Boston Division of Metropolitan Planning's 1926 Report on Improved Transportation Facilities further considered this conversion (and a connection to the East Boston Tunnel) as well as running rapid transit lines along existing mainline railroads to replace inner suburb local stops.
The conversion proposal—which would have involved a continuous tunnel running from Lake Street station in Brighton to Maverick Square in East Boston, plus a second through route from Lechmere to Tremont Street in Roxbury—was never implemented except for the partial completion of the Huntington Avenue Subway in 1941. However, many of the other extension proposals were partially or wholly completed, with the opening of the Blue Line to Wonderland in 1954, the Highland Branch conversion to light rail in 1959, the partial conversion of the Reading Hill Line to the Haymarket North Extension in 1977, the extension of the Red Line to Braintree in 1980, and the relocation of the Orange Line to the Southwest Corridor in 1987. Two additional projects were considered in the report but not recommended for immediate work: a circumferential route which would reappear years later as the Urban Ring, and an extension of Tremont Street Subway through service from Lechmere to Woburn via the Lowell Line.
By 1940, just four streetcar routes remained in Somerville: the 87 Clarendon Hill – Lechmere via Somerville Avenue and 88 Clarendon Hill – Lechmere via Highland Avenue pair, the 89 Clarendon Hill – Sullivan Square Station route, and the 101 Salem Street – Sullivan Square Station route which connected with the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway's Fellsway Line to Stoneham. The 87 and 88 were converted to trackless trolleys in 1941, while the 89 and 101 saw heavy wartime use and lasted until 1946 and 1947, respectively.
In the 1945-47 Coolidge Commission reports, many of the same transit projects were again proposed; but this time the Woburn extension was given a high rating. The extension would allow the Boston & Maine Railroad to abandon their local stops along the corridor (all stops from West Medford inwards had previously lost most of their ridership to streetcars) while providing a faster trip than on surface transit.
However, other extensions received priority, and the Woburn extension was not built. The B&M dropped the Somerville local stops in the late 1940s and early 1950s due to declining ridership. In 1955-57 the B&M raised the tracks through Wedgemere and Winchester Center onto a high grade and viaduct in order to eliminate busy grade crossings. However, the elevated portion was only built with two tracks, preventing a rapid transit extension from reaching to Woburn, since two tracks would still be needed for Lowell Line service. All discussion of the project since has focused on an extension no further than West Medford. The trackless trolleys were replaced by buses in 1959 and 1963, leaving most of Somerville with a transit system dependent on buses running on frequently crowded streets.
After decades of no action, in 1990 Massachusetts agreed to a legally binding resolution to extend the line through Somerville to offset the additional burdens in traffic and pollution within the city due to completion of the Big Dig infrastructure. The current phase of planning began in 2005 with the completion of the MBTA's "Beyond Lechmere Northwest Corridor Study Major Investment Study/Alternatives Analysis."
Despite this legal commitment, however, the Green Line Extension project lagged far behind schedule, prompting the City of Somerville and the Conservation Law Foundation to file a lawsuit to keep the project moving. In 2006, this litigation, with the help of community support and advocacy groups such as Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership (STEP) and the Union Square Task Force, finally brought about a multimillion dollar state investment in planning for the Green Line Extension with mandated completion date of December 2014. Potential station stops were announced for the first time in May 2008.
In 2010, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) announced that the new service was expected to be operational in October 2015; interim air quality offset measures would need to be taken if the project misses its December 2014 deadline as expected. The Department of Transportation had previously announced that due to budget limitations, the portion from College Avenue to Route 16 would be a future second phase of the extension, not included in the current proposed project.
In August 2011, MassDOT announced that opening of the Extension would be postponed to Fall 2018 at the earliest. Completion of the Extension to College Avenue near Tufts University could be delayed to 2020, while the terminus at Mystic Valley Parkway remains deferred indefinitely. The stated reason for the delays was difficulties in land acquisition, plus implied concerns about cost controls and financing. Interim air-quality improvement measures will be necessary due to the project delays. Possibilities include extending Green Line branches to Lechmere, increased bus service in Somerville and Medford, and adding temporary or permanent commuter rail stops along the GLX corridor.
On June 11, 2012, the Federal Transit Administration approved the Extensions for entry into the Preliminary Engineering phase as part of the New Starts program. This approval was a necessary step in MassDOT's application for $557.06 million in New Starts funding.
In August 2012, the City of Somerville, MassDOT and the MBTA reached a memorandum of agreement about the Union Square station. Through the Somerville Redevelopment Authority, the City will acquire $8 million worth of land for the station and grant the MBTA a permanent easement. In return, the MBTA and MassDOT will pay for cleanup costs at the site, begin construction by the spring of 2014 and open the station no later than early 2017. In October 2012, the Somerville Board of Aldermen approved the Union Square Redevelopment Plan and authorized an $8 million bond, including $6 million to purchase the land and $2 million for cleanup and station planning.
In December 2014, the FTA said it intended to pay $996 million of the extension's $2.2 billion costs. The remainder of expenses would be paid by the state, from either its operating funds or bonds.
Phase 1 construction
Phase I consists of the reconstruction of the Harvard Street Railroad Bridge in Medford and the Medford Street Railroad Bridge in Somerville as well as the demolition of the MBTA facility at 21 Water Street in Cambridge. The MBTA opened bid solicitations for Phase I construction elements, which represent preliminary work that can be done while the main project is in final design, in July 2012. The work includes the $15.3 million reconstruction of the two railroad bridges, as well as the $3 million demolition. Phase I work is to last until early 2015.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held at the Medford Street bridge on December 11, 2012. A Notice to Proceed was issued to the contractor, Barletta Heavy Division, Inc., on January 31, 2013. Surveying began in February, while construction started in March 2013.
The 21 Water Street facility was demolished in August 2014.
Phase 2/2A construction
In September 2013, the state secured funding to move forward on the construction of two new Green line stations in Somerville, project Phase 2/2A. Construction is expected to begin on two new stations in the Union Square and Brickbottom neighborhoods of Somerville early in 2014 and are expected to be open by 2017. A new elevated Lechmere and a viaduct over the Fitchburg Line will also be built, along with numerous streetscape, bridge, signal, and utility improvements and relocations.
In mid-2013, the MBTA awarded a construction manager-general contractor contract to White Skanska Kiewit (WSK), a joint venture of J. F. White Contracting Co., Skanska USA Civil Northeast and Kiewit Infrastructure. WSK is responsible for the primary construction work for Phases 2/2A, 3, and 4. Notice to proceed for Phase 2 pre-construction was given on July 19, 2013. On September 25, 2013, the MassDOT board approved a $393M, three-year contract with WSK for Phase 2 construction, with funds from the transportation bill passed earlier that year. The state intends to seek $557M in federal New Starts money for Phases 3 and 4.
On November 13, 2013, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Transportation approved a $12.1 billion spending bill which included $1.3 billion for the Green Line Extension, as well as $2.2 billion for South Coast Rail and $300 million for South Station expansion. The bill was then given to the Massachusetts House and Senate for debate.
The main project is divided into three phases. Phase 2/2A, to be complete by early 2017, will extend service to Union Square on the Union Square Branch, and to Washington Street on the Medford Branch. A new elevated Lechmere and a substantial viaduct over the Fitchburg Line will be built, along with numerous streetscape, bridge, signal and utility improvements and relocations. Phase 3, to last from 2016 into 2018, involves the construction of a substantial new Green Line maintenance facility and several smaller buildings adjacent to the MBTA Commuter Rail Maintenance Facility. Phase 4, lasting from 2015 to 2019, is the construction of the remainder of the Medford Branch with stations at Gilman Square, Lowell Street, Ball Square and College Avenue. Several miles of Lowell Line tracks will be relocated and retaining and noise abatement walls constructed to make way for the Green Line tracks, as well as more bridge, signal, and utility work.
In 2008, the EPA ratified the Massachusetts State Implementation Plan (SIP) to include an amendment to the 1994 agreement that substituted the planned "the Green Line extension to Ball Square/Tufts University" with an "extension to Medford Hillside...[and] spur to Union Square." Accordingly, the MBTA and MassDOT surveyed potential termini at the intersection of Winthrop Street and Boston Avenue, and also Route 16 (Mystic Valley Parkway), but these locations were abandoned by the agencies, citing budgetary limitations. Instead, the GLX was retracted by a mile to College Avenue, which is encompassed by Tufts University.
The currently proposed plan to terminate the GLX at College Ave has drawn numerous criticisms from the community members of Medford and Somerville, who question the advantages and legality of the move. A petition by the Medford Green Line Neighborhood Alliance to extend the Green Line points out that a terminus at Route 16 would "provide Green Line access to thousands of people within a 10-minute walk," be "conveniently located on two major thoroughfares with existing bus connections," and "serve two large portions of Medford and Somerville designated as Environmental Justice Communities."
In January 2012, the MBTA and MassDOT issued a response to questions from the public. The document counters that "The position of MassDOT and the MBTA on the configuration of the Green Line Extension is supported and has been reinforced by multiple regulatory agencies overseeing the SIP, including MassDEP." In concluding these comments, the document stated that it would not respond to any further questions regarding College Ave satisfying the Medford Hillside requirements of the SIP.
During Phase 2 construction, the northern section of the Lechmere Elevated will be removed and the elevated section of the line will be extended to a large flyover bridge crossing the Fitchburg Line tracks. The 1922 Lechmere station will be replaced with an elevated station across the street. The work may require closing the viaduct (and thus cutting service back to North Station) for 17 months – the third major disruption of Lechmere service since 2004 – causing opposition to the closure in Cambridge.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Green Line Extension (MBTA).|
- MassDOT project page
- MBTA project page
- Simulation of Medford Branch
- Simulation of Union Square Branch
- STEP (Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership)
- Medford Green Line Neighborhood Alliance (MGNA)
- GLX Geographical Inquiry
- The Search for Medford Hillside