The latest green line extension delay is testing patience for locals

BOSTON — MBTA officials announced that the opening of the Green Line Extension’s Union Square branch has been delayed for the second time this year. Originally planned to open this October, the one-stop line is expected to start service in March 2022.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak announced that the newest delay was primarily due to issues with an electric power substation near the Cambridge-Somerville border. The substation converts energy and powers the Green Line trolleys on the Union Square branch. The first delay was attributed to supply chain issues amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Terrence McCarthy, a deputy program manager on the $2.3 billion project, said they didn’t have enough resources to complete the first power substation. 

“We have 650 crew members, and that still isn’t enough,” said McCarthy. 

The Somerville resident said it takes a lot of infrastructure to convert the around 800 volts of DC power needed to run the substation. McCarthy hopes that the six-stop Medford branch, which was delayed from this December until May 2022, won’t be pushed back again as well.

The latest delay on the 4.3-mile Green Line extension has tested some locals’ patience. Early planning on the long-awaited project took place back in 1991.

“I’m disappointed with the delay, but I realize that supply chain and labor issues are out of the project’s control,” said Somerville native Joanne Johnson. “Part of the reason we bought our house was the fact that we’d have a Green Line station just several hundred feet from our front door. The progress recently has been slow, but watching the tracks come to life in our backyard has been fun.”

Johnson has found the construction noises and traffic lanes disruptive — she is looking forward to living in a quieter neighborhood. 

Jamaica Plain resident Stacy Thompson believes some of the recent complaints on the project aren’t entirely fair. 

“Every project has someone complaining about something, and I don’t really see anything particularly glaring about this project,” said Thompson, an executive director at Livable Streets Alliance. “As a knowledgeable advocate, who knows the ins and outs of this project, I’m not worried about this delay because they were able to keep the project on track during COVID.”

Thompson added that they are looking forward to seeing the extension’s benefits on local businesses in Somerville. 

“People like me didn’t travel to Somerville because it was just a pain to commute to that area,” said Thompson. As soon as the project is complete she plans on spending more nights out in the area.

Thompson, who works to create equitable and affordable transit in the Somerville and Boston area, credits Poftak for successfully bringing the project to completion under budget on a new timeline. Poftak notably succeeded Luis Ramirez as the new project manager of the MBTA in 2018. 

Poftak stated that they would return tens of millions of dollars that Cambridge and Somerville have contributed to the project.

After years of stalled negotiations, Somerville locals can finally see progress being made on the extension.

“I think everybody knows the extension is going to finally happen. We have gotten used to delays,” said David Gibbs, who has lived near Porter Square since 1992. “I’d be willing to bet that at some point next spring, I’m going to step onto a green line train running through Somerville — I hope I’m right.”

While Gibbs believes the extension will benefit the wealthy developers the most, he thinks it will also generate tax revenue for the city and create some affordable housing. 

“Linkage fees and other payments negotiated by neighborhood councils, through community benefits agreements, will contribute to the development of additional affordable housing,” said Gibbs. 

He said he thinks the project can be a net positive if the city continues to ensure that the people who live in Somerville now can continue living there. 

For Gibbs, the greatest challenge is finding solutions to the rapid gentrification created by the new line. Earlier this year, an equity analysis found that the extension will provide a distinct benefit to non-minority riders and a disproportionate benefit to non-low-income riders. 

This is due to profound demographic changes in the neighborhoods closest to the Green Line stops. 

“Certainly, a lot of the people who were here 25 years ago aren’t here now, and they will not get any of the benefits of this,” said Gibbs. “But we want to keep the remaining folks here so that they can take advantage of all of this new development.”