The MBTA, as you may have heard, has some issues. But the recently opened Green Line Extension is a delight.
The Somerville-curious can now glide into Gilman Square and Magoun Square with ease. The charming pink and chrome of Kelly’s Diner is just steps from the Ball Square stop.
And at the end of the line in Medford, the students and staff of Tufts University have a brand new connection to Boston.
“My whole life has always been, ‘wait till the Green Line comes, wait till the Green Line comes, wait till the Green Line comes,’” said Laura Sacco, a Medford native and Tufts employee waiting to take the train for the first time Tuesday morning. “So it’s been exciting.”
As Sacco suggests, the 4.7-mile extension was a long time coming.
Discussed for decades, the state first promised to build the extension back in 1990 as part of a legal agreement with the Conservation Law Foundation aimed at mitigating the impacts of the Big Dig — the gargantuan project that buried a portion of Interstate 93 beneath downtown Boston.
The project moved very slowly; in 2005, the foundation had to sue to get it going, eventually agreeing to a 2014 deadline that was pushed and pushed and pushed.
But now that the $2.3 billion project is a reality — a Union Square spur opened nine months before the new Tufts service — it stands as a concrete-and-steel reminder that this state, for all its mass transit woes, can get big things done.
Political leadership, the project shows, is key.
In Washington, former Congressman Michael Capuano, a Somerville Democrat, played an important role in securing $1 billion in federal funding for the project. And when it looked like a ballooning budget might spike the extension altogether, elected officials in Somerville and Cambridge took the unusual step of putting up millions in local dollars to keep the project alive.
“We don’t like doing this,” then-Somerville mayor Joe Curtatone said at the time. “We understand that it’s necessary.”
Stacy Thompson, executive director of the LivableStreets Alliance, says pouring money into a project that had fallen out of favor was politically risky. And it will take more of that kind of leadership, she says, to advance the state’s next big transportation projects: a realignment of Interstate 90 that would open up a vast swath of land in Allston, high-speed rail from Boston to Springfield, and a Red Line-Blue Line connector.
“We need bold politicians who are willing to say the hard thing out loud,” she says. “Joe Curtatone was willing to do that when others weren’t.”
The completion of the Green Line Extension also owed much to the T’s decision, however tardy, to spend significant sums hiring a star manager: John Dalton, who had overseen a major signals project for the Chicago Transit Authority and a $7.6 billion road and transportation project in Dubai before the T brought him on board in 2016.
Dalton was able to steady the then-teetering project — and build a sizable team that saw it through to completion. And along the way, he created a model for megaprojects in this state.
Political leadership and management acumen are what built the Green Line Extension. And as a new administration prepares to take power on Beacon Hill, that ought to be the template.