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Critics pan MBTA extension proposal

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Irving Fischman, center, of Somerville, looked at plans for a scaled-back Green Line extension project, at a community forum at the Somerville Armory on Wednesday evening.

By Nicole Dungca Globe Staff 

SOMERVILLE — Five of the seven planned stations for the Green Line extension could be scaled back from enclosed buildings to bare-bones, open-air stations under preliminary redesigns presented to a packed crowd Wednesday evening.

Possible changes to the stations and a vehicle maintenance facility could save roughly $300 million, according to officials, who stressed the redesigns are far from final.

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The future of the long-planned Green Line extension into Somerville and Medford was thrown into question last year after Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials said the project could cost nearly $1 billion more than an estimated $2 billion price tag.

Since then, the MBTA’s board has appointed an interim team to explore whether it can redesign and rebid the project with new contractors to substantially cut costs.

Board members have pledged to move forward on the project only if cost estimates can be substantially reduced. If not, the state could drop the project, leaving about $1 billion of pledged federal money on the table and canceling perhaps the most anticipated transit project in the state.

John Karn, an Arup Group consultant who has been retained to help scale back the project, said the team is genuinely trying to find ways to cut costs.

“We’re trying to get it down to core functionality,” he said.

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Jack Wright, a consultant from Weston & Sampson who is now the interim leader of the Green Line project team, said that preliminary redesigns to the stations could save approximately $200 million or more, but he stressed that all of the redesigns could change. He said changes to a vehicle maintenance facility could also save about $70 million.

At a packed meeting in Somerville’s Arts at the Armory building, elected officials and residents urged officials not to abandon the project.

“We stand together, and we want to see it come to succeed,” said Stephanie Burke, the mayor of Medford. “We’re willing to have the scaled-down facilities to achieve that goal.”

The scaled-back sketches include a rebuilt Lechmere station in Cambridge and new Gilman Square, Washington Street, Union Square, Lowell Street, Ball Square, and College Avenue stations throughout Somerville and Medford.

Previously, all of the stations had “headhouses,” or buildings that enclosed some aspects of the station. But under the preliminary redesigns, Gilman, Washington, Union Square, Lowell, and Ball Square would get rid of those enclosed buildings and become “open-air” stations. The College Avenue and Lechmere stations would also be smaller, with platforms exposed to the weather.

In addition, the agency could redesign a proposed vehicle maintenance facility to be much smaller. Instead of holding 80 to 90 Green Line vehicles, the redesigned facility could hold about 40, Wright said.

Irving Fischman, a Somerville resident, was one of several at the meeting unhappy with the changes. The community had been waiting for years for the project, he said, and exposed station platforms are “horrible” for people in the cold.

“It’s way too stripped down,” he said. “We need to build stations for the next 50 to 75 years, and this isn’t it.”

Laurel Ruma, who lives near the proposed College Avenue station, scrawled her feedback on a posterboard: “This is not the College Ave station we want or need,” she wrote.

Some elected officials also expressed some disappointment at how simple the stations had become.

State Representative Denise Provost, a Democrat of Somerville, told the crowd that she was a bit “stunned by the austerity of some of the stations,” but said she was pleased that the project appeared to be moving forward in some way.

Though officials presented a Union Square station in their sketches, some in the crowd nonetheless worried that the MBTA would eliminate the stop. Previously, officials said they could consider converting a Union Square stop into a commuter rail stop or a bus stop with access to the Lechmere Station.

John MacDougall, a Cambridge resident, circulated a petition asking the T to build the entire project, including the Union Square station and the community path.

But even as some residents pushed for the state to add back some features, others were just eager to get any kind of project built. “Between having nothing and having stations that are bare bones, I would 100 percent support the bare bones station,” said Daniel Lander of Cambridge.


Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.