Last week, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority abruptly cut ties with four contractors working on the 4.7-mile Green Line extension to Somerville and Medford, outside Boston. The announcement came shortly after reports that the cost of the light rail project had ballooned to about $3 billion, an increase of a billion dollars.
State officials said the decision doesn’t mean the project will be cancelled, although transportation chief Stephanie Pollack wouldn’t rule out that possibility, reports the Boston Globe.
The Green Line extension has a lot going for it. The project will serve some of the most densely populated areas of New England, and ridership is expected to be robust — about 49,000 trips per day. It enjoys widespread political support and will run along existing rail right-of-ways, so the political controversies that can accompany land acquisition are not an issue. It has secured nearly $1 billion in federal funding and benefits from a legal mandate requiring the state to offset some of the pollution effects of the Big Dig by improving transit.
So how did the cost rise so much and what does it mean for the project?
A major factor was the way MassDOT and the MBTA chose to contract out the project, according to Rafael Mares of the Conservation Law Foundation, a regional environmental non-profit.