On Monday, May 9, 2016, the MassDOT Board, together with the fairly-new-to-GLX MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board (FMCB), voted to keep this crucial project going - albeit conditionally, and in reduced circumstances. That this vote occurred is due to the hard work and perseverance of many individuals (most of whom never expected to develop a major sideline in transportation advocacy), community organizations, and the city governments and elected leaders in GLX corridor cities. I always feel so proud and grateful when I go to a GLX meeting, and see how our community has turned out, armed with facts and passionate arguments.
But there's no denying that this vote took place after the Baker administration had extracted promises to contribute significant funding for the project from two of the three cities in the GLX corridor. Cambridge has committed $25 million, half of which it may be able to recoup from the developers of the North Point Project. Somerville, smaller, and poorer by most every measure, has committed $50 million - having been given no real choice. See, for instance:
http://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2016/05/09/green-line-extension-move-forward and http://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2016/05/10/scaled-green-line-extension-look-like
Let's leave aside for the moment the fact that this announced "new policy" of local contribution for capital spending on transportation projects is abysmal transportation policy (let's also see if the Baker administration applies it statewide, as represented.) Let's ask what the formula is that puts Somerville on the hook for $50 million. And let's look more closely at the contention - foreshadowing recent events - that Somerville needed "skin in the game" in order to move the project forward.
Many, many devoted people have testified and submitted testimony, over the years that GLX has been pending, about the various costs - in health, safety, mobility, and development opportunities - that Somerville has paid and paid again. At a recent meeting on the joint boards to take testimony on GLX, I testified specifically about some of the fiscal "skin" that the state has extracted from Somerville, to serve the transportation needs of the region: MBTA already owns 70 acres of land in our city. That's 3.5% of our total land area, and if it could be taxed at commercial rates, would be worth $2.7 billion in annual tax revenues.
Additionally, Somerville pays the 5th highest MBTA assessment in the state - $5,062,633 in FY 2016, and roughly the same amount for many years before that. This assessment is almost as much as the amount paid by the Brookline ($5,064,774), with its several Green Line stops. Quincy, which has three Red Line subway stations, pays just over $2 million annually - making me wonder about the formula for calculating the assessments.
But let's say that we take the position of MassDOT Secretary Pollack at face value - the GLX is too costly, and there's a shortfall of $73 million even counting all current sources of funding - how does that argument stand up? Well, it's plausible, I suppose, until we consider that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts recently committed up to $120 million in direct grants for infrastructure improvements related to the new General Electric headquarters in Boston - including for new vehicles, dispatch software, and other services for the "Seaport Transportation Management Association." Another $25 million of the total is committed to GE for other "improvements," which could include a parking garage, water shuttles facilities, and/or a helipad (see: "General Electric executives really, really want a helipad in Boston" ).
So what does the existence of the agreement between GE and the Baker administration show? First of all, that if the political will is there, the dollars can be found. Secondly, why should folks in the GLX corridor get cleaner air, and a one-seat commute to Boston, when GE officials want a helipad? It's all about priorities - and our governor has made his clear.