The Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board of Directors, meeting in Somerville, voted Wednesday to authorize a $45 million contract for design of the Green Line Extension.
"This is actually beginning to put meat on the bone," said MassDOT Secretary Richard Davey after the vote, speaking about how the design effort will progress with the contract in place. "It's a great step forward for the project today," he said.
As part of the contract, the design team will prepare documents that will be used in the next stage of the state's application for federal funding.
In spring of 2012, the to the Federal Transit Administration's pipeline for New Starts funding, allowing it to enter the "preliminary engineering" phase. The contract authorized Wednesday will help the project apply—likely in August, 2013—for the "final design" phase of the New Starts process. After that, the project would need to move into the "full funding grant agreement" phase in order to receive federal dollars.
The state wants the New Starts program to pay for roughly $557 of the $1.3 billion project.
The biggest challenge to the Green Line Extension's effort to get federal funding is not the project itself, but the overall sorry state of the MBTA's finances, which is a major turnoff the Federal Transit Administration, Davey explained. The MBTA recently raised fares, altered service and received a large infusion of cash from the state to close a budget deficit, and the transit authority faces similar budget crunches next year and in the future.
The Board of Directors voted 6-1 to approve the $45 million design contract. The lone dissenting vote was from Ferdinand Alvaro, who also talked about broader fiscal problems with the Massachusetts transportation system and the MBTA.
He said the Green Line Extension would put a strain on the MBTA's operating costs, and it seemed "imprudent" to authorize "these sums of money with so many question marks on the horizon" about the T's finances and the federal government's willingness to award funds.
Because the Board of Directors met at Somerville City Hall—it usually meets in downtown Boston—Somerville's mayor, Joseph Curtatone, introduced the meeting.
Speaking in favor of the design contract, he said, "It's a vote that will have a tremendously positive impact, not just on Somerville, Cambridge and Medford, but on the commonwealth as a whole."
He said the Green Line Extension would spark economic development in the area that could lead to 8,000 jobs in Union Square and 12,000 jobs in the Inner Belt and Brickbottom neighborhoods of Somerville.