U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx came to Somerville, Mass., Monday afternoon to formally commit nearly $1 billion from the federal government towards the extension of the MBTA Green Line from Lechmere into Somerville.
But still looming: How can the state come up with its $1.3 billion share of the project, set to add nearly five miles of new trolley line, six stops, and 24 near Green Line trolleys by July 2021?
"They've done their job,'' U.S. Representative Michael Capuano, a former Somerville mayor, said at the ceremony held at Somerville High School. "But we need to keep it going, because this federal money will not come without state matching dollars. It's not just given to us. It has to be matched. The state has lived up to its commitment so far. We have to make sure that the commitment doesn't somehow fall off the table.''
The long-hoped-for Somerville Green Line extension is only one of several MBTA plans and promises Governor Deval L. Patrick has made that will fall to his successor, Governor-elect Charlie Baker, to fulfill and find a way to pay for. Patrick has committed to a $2.3 billion extension of commuter rail to Taunton, Fall River, and New Bedford, along with a $1 billion expansion of nearly-maxed-out South Station and a new "West Station" rail hub in Allston, and talked up a new fleet of "diesel multiple unit" coaches that can offer subway-like service frequency on the Fairmount branch and Newton-Boston stretch of the Framingham line. Patrick's also begun the $80 million extension of the Silver Line from Logan International Airport into Chelsea and committed the first of hundreds of millions of dollars to replace 284 Red and Orange Line subway cars.
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Transit advocate Rafael Mares of the Conservation Law Foundation said besides those, Baker will also lead a state on the hook for tens of millions of dollars to replace worn-out buses, trains, bridges, and tracks. "Many of those are necessary, and there's nothing that can be done, and they will have to be fulfilled, so the problem will be to find revenue, sufficient revenue'' to pay for them, Mares said.
That, Patrick said Monday, may involve something Baker's show little interest in: Higher taxes. While acknowledging that Somerville and neighboring communities are justifiedly excited about the Green Line extension, Patrick said, "It is also our responsibility as a community to start having a candid, honest conversation with each other about the taxes to pay for the civilization we deserve. Keep that in mind.''
Baker's transition team has called the Somerville Green Line extension "important" and said he has no plans to change course on it. But all the more so after voters last November repealed an indexing of the gasoline tax to inflation, a move that will cut about $1 billion from available transportation funding over the next decade, it looks very likely that a governor opposed to big tax increases will find it hard to pay for all the transit promises his predecessor made and expectations he raised, and many may have to be delayed or dropped.
With videographer Mike Bellwin