It was a small amount for a multibillion-dollar project, but the payment from the federal government marked an important milestone for the extension of the Green Line to Somerville and Medford.
The $1.7 million payment is the first federal grant money the state has received for the long- beleaguered project, according to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and Federal Transit Administration.
“The Green Line extension has been going on for a while, but the Commonwealth has been paying all the actual dollars for it,” said John Dalton, the MBTA manager overseeing the Green Line project. The payment, he said, is “comforting and reassuring, and underscores what we’ve been saying for a long time: that the FTA wants to see the project go forward.”
There’s more to come. The $1.7 million is the first payout of a $35.4 million grant award that was formalized late last month. The T is expected to receive similarly sized grant awards each of the next four years to help fund the 4.7-mile light rail expansion into Somerville and Medford, for a total of $157 million.
The $157 million was originally planned to be used just on a later component of the project — extending the Green Line even further into Medford. But it was shifted into the budget for the main body of work after the extension ran into cost overruns. The first portion will pay for work relocating commuter rail lines to make way for the extended trolley service.
Meanwhile, the T is still awaiting access to a much larger bucket of federal money, nearly $1 billion that the FTA approved in 2014. Dalton said officials have every reason to believe they’ll soon have access to that money, having already gotten key approvals in the last several months after budget issues forced the federal agency to review the plan.
Still in planning stages, the Green Line extension has been troubled by cost overruns; the state disclosed in 2015 that the project was on pace to eclipse its original $2 billion budget by as much as $1 billion, in part because of the cost of five new stations in Somerville and one in Medford, and a rebuilt Lechmere Station in Cambridge.
So far, the state has spent about $536 million on the project, which includes early infrastructure work, procurement of new Green Line cars, and payments to contractors who have since been fired due to the costs issues. The T expects to award the project’s largest contract in late fall to a firm that will lead design and construction work.
Rafael Mares, an attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation and advocate for the project, said it’s a good sign that the project remains on track.
“It’s nice to see that it’s happening,” Mares said. “At this point, the project is proceeding according to the new schedule. There’s little doubt in my mind that this will go forward.”