by Ilan Mochari
On June 15, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) released its Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the Green Line Extension project. That gave the public 15 days to read it and react, in advance of the June 30 public meeting on the FEIR at Somerville High School (81 Highland Ave).
The meeting – which took place after Somerville Scout went to press but before the eagle dropped it in your mailbox – provided an opportunity for residents to learn about the project and question MassDOT officials. Hoping to anticipate the issues residents would raise, Scout spoke to Ellin Reisner, President of Somerville Equity Transportation Partnership (STEP).
Reisner applauded the State’s plan for public involvement. Specifically, she lauded the idea (stated in the FEIR) of hiring an ombudsperson and hosting a project office where concerned residents can walk in with questions. One of Reisner’s concerns, however, is whether or not the State intends to change bus routes or bus stops to better complement the new Green Line stations. “I’d prefer to see more detail saying how buses will get people to the stations.”
Kate Fichter, Project Manager of the Green Line Extension for MassDOT, says the modification of bus routes is “something we talk about a lot. But it’s premature to do it at this point, four years before the [Green Line] service is in.” One of the keys to modifying bus routes, she says, is seeing exactly how travel patterns and ridership figures will change once the extended Green Line is up and running. She adds, “A lot of folks like bus routes the way they are – I hear from others who say, ‘Don’t touch my bus.’ It’s a balance and we need to be sensitive to everyone in the community.”
Transit advocate Jim McGinnis, who also volunteers for STEP, gave the FEIR high marks for incorporating numerous community suggestions on how to improve the design of the Lechmere station. One of McGinnis’s concerns is the College Ave station, which is slated to serve as the end of the line. (In earlier stages of the project, Route 16 was the final stop.) “I’m having a lot of trouble seeing how College Ave will be an acceptable terminus, from the standpoint of traffic and pedestrian safety,” he says.
“You’ve got Tufts and a steep hillside on one side, and industrial-athletic space on other. It only really serves Tufts, and even that, only on one corner.” Then there are the issues that arise when a station is a terminus: “You need extra track work and a longer platform, so if a train is disabled you can get it out of the way. The right of way is very narrow there – it might lead to more land takings. [The State] hasn’t said that yet, but it seems to me to be a risk,” he adds.
Fichter believes College Ave is a viable terminus. “There’s a lot of demand right in that area. It’s very walk-able to residents and employees and students. There are some challenges for pedestrians at the College Ave and Boston Ave intersection, but those are true whether it’s a terminus or not – and those are things we can improve with sidewalks, clear paths and crossing signals.” She adds that the State still plans to make Route 16 the end of the line in 2016-2020, when more Federal funding for the Green Line project will become available.
If you’re eager to get in on the Green Line discussion, visit MassDOT’s Green Line site (greenlineextension.eot.state.ma.us) and STEP’s site (somervillestep.org). You’ll find the FEIR, Green Line maps and dozens of other helpful documents. And if you missed the June 30 meeting at SHS, it’s not too late to get involved. The Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) Office is accepting comments on the Green Line Extension until July 23. Just email your thoughts to Holly Johnson, MEPA Analyst, at .