By Sam Dieringer
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority announced on Aug. 5 that the Green Line Extension’s Medford branch would not open as scheduled in summer 2022, but instead be pushed further to late November, following a series of previous delays.
When GLX project managers released their decision to extend their work on the Medford branch, many local students, residents and workers were left scrambling to adjust to the new and uncertain circumstances. In this piece, we asked a number of our community members to share their perspectives on the delay, what it means for them and what larger implications the delay might have for the Medford/Somerville area. Here’s what they said.
Clara Davis, a sophomore and SMFA dual-degree student, explained that public transportation access was one of her considerations when deciding where to go for college.
“Honestly, public transit was one of my considerations when I was thinking about what college I [wanted] to go to, because I hate driving. So coming to Boston was really exciting,” Davis said.
Before transferring to the dual degree program, Davis pursued a BFA degree at the SMFA and lived in Brookline. Davis emphasized that she took the T almost constantly, and knew the ins and outs of the MBTA by the end of her first year.
As a sophomore, Davis transferred into the dual degree program and now commutes from Medford/Somerville to the SMFA campus. As a result of her new residence and need to commute, she has run into daily transportation-related challenges that could be solved with the GLX.
“There’s one part of my week where I have an hour to get from my class at SMFA back to my class [in Medford/Somerville],” Davis said. “And it’s at the half hour mark, so I can’t take a shuttle … I have to take a T. And if I take the Green Line to the Red Line, it takes like an hour if I’m lucky. Whereas if the Green Line extension was done, it would take more like 35 minutes or something more reasonable.”
Similar to Davis, new Medford resident Jake Perda was in a predicament following the announcement to delay the GLX. Perda, a recent graduate of Northeastern University and an accounting professional, moved outside of the city to obtain off-street parking for his car, which is necessary for his job. What drew Perda to Medford particularly was the incoming opening of the GLX, he shared. Perda thought he would be able to go to his office in Copley Square with ease a few times a week.
“What led me to Medford was that it was at the end of the new Green Line extension, which was allegedly going to be opened in summer 2022. So I figured if we’re moving in September, that should be open,” Perda said.
Knowing that the opening of the extension could potentially be pushed back, Perda found comfort with access to the nearby Orange Line, which also could bring him to Copley Square. Unfortunately for Perda, it was announced in August that both the Green Line Extension would be delayed and the entire Orange Line would be temporarily shut down.
“[I thought] if for some reason the extension didn’t work out, I would have the Orange Line. But as we’ve seen it play out … that did not work out how I planned it,” Perda said.
In the time the two branches were closed, Perda struggled to find a reliable way to get to downtown Boston with ease.
“I haven’t found any alternatives I call ‘sustainable’ because it’s either a matter of spending an hour and a half getting into the city or paying $25 to $35 for an Uber to get into the city,” Perda said. “Once the Green Line and Orange Line open back up, I’m hoping I’ll be able to make it in a little faster.”
Perhaps no other individual in the Tufts community has a more in-depth perspective on issues with public transit than Justin Hollander, professor and interim chair of the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning. Hollander explained how a series of problems, including fires on the T rails, led to the latest delay.
“Well, the MBTA is literally on fire. So I think that they’re looking at kind of immediate operational challenges right now as a priority,” Hollander said.
Hollander described how students within the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning have conducted research and worked in internships about the MBTA extensions. He explained that the department has viewed the onset of the Green Line extension as a much more gradual process.
“I think that all the stuff that our department’s been involved in has always had kind of an eye that this is something that’s not immediate … so I think that’s kind of built into how we push [our] projects,” Hollander said.
Jeffrey Berry, another Tufts professor in the political science department, has a particular focus on urban politics and shared insight on the effects of public transportation on the local economy. Berry did not foresee the delay to the GLX as anything out of the ordinary, especially when it comes to constructing a new train line from scratch.
“I don’t see any sort of a larger significance to the fact that every once in a while train lines have to be repaired. It’s not something unique to Boston,” Berry said. “The Green Line Extension, [though], is about building a line from scratch and the delays have to do with construction and testing.”
More broadly, Berry explained how the construction of the GLX has led to increased economic activity, including gentrification and rising property values in the Medford/Somerville area.
“The biggest impact on the political economy of Medford and Somerville came with the plans for them to extend the Green Line, and particularly when the stations were selected,” Berry said. “And the impact then was that it made the property surrounding those stations a lot more valuable. That in turn has led to gentrification, so the impact on the local economy has been significant.”
Berry highlighted the impact of the current construction of the Green Line, and how business will see significant growth in the Medford/Somerville area.
“[The Green Line construction] has already had a significant impact, but it will continue to have an impact because populations are likely to increase with transit-oriented development. … More people living in the areas mean that there’s more business for local establishments. So that in turn means more property taxes. So this is going to continue to have an impact,” Berry said.
Among all of the thoughts and speculation surrounding the Green Line Extension development, the Deputy Program Manager of Stakeholder Engagement for the GLX Project Terry McCarthy offered some insight.
In explaining the context behind the latest delay with the Green Line Extension, McCarthy shared that the project team utilized the shutdown “diversion” of the Orange Line to help complete the work that would have taken 70 to 80 days, but instead took only six days. McCarthy added that this work scheduling change still pushed back the opening date of the GLX.
“Because of that diversion, we were able to accomplish that work in about six days. … We slightly had to push back our projected revenue opening date,” McCarthy said. “I wouldn’t quite call it a delay. It was more adjusting in the schedule to complete the work.”
McCarthy underscored that the rescheduling of the new target opening date is more of a “resequencing,” rather than a delay, based on various circumstances of the project.
“The Medford/Tufts station isn’t delayed in any element of anything … delay for GLX is not really the correct term. We resequenced our work elements to take advantage of the Orange Line diversion,” McCarthy said. “One of the things that you have to remember [is] what happens in the core of our system affects each end.”
As the project is currently set to open in November, McCarthy reiterated the immense benefits the GLX can provide for the public, particularly in Medford and Somerville.
“Some of the benefits of the project is reducing vehicle congestion and improving air quality,” McCarthy said. “Also, [this is] more towards the city of Somerville, but 20% of people can [currently] walk to a transit station. When GLX is completed, 80% of the population of Somerville will be able to walk or transit and that’s based on a half mile radius around each of the stations.”
When asked about his optimism surrounding the completion of the extension by this November, Hollander felt more optimistic that the extension would finish on schedule this time around.
“They’ll start the Orange Line, and then the Green Line extension that’s running. And then soon after that, we’ll start to see the Green Line come to campus,” Hollander said.
Unlike Hollander, Perda was much more skeptical and uncertain about the extension’s completion in November, especially in light of the MBTA’s previous delays.
“Well, I am not optimistic at all, to be honest … I would say I have little faith that the Green Line extension is going to open in November,” Perda said. “But at the very least if they could just open up the Orange Line and give me a route into the city. While it might not be the most convenient route, at least it’s better than what we have right now.”
Echoing Perda’s sentiment, Davis expressed her increasing frustration with the Green Line extension.
“I want to be optimistic,” Davis said. “If they’ve pushed [back the opening] twice, I don’t know whether I should trust it or not at this point. I want to, I really do.”