Boston, Somerville, Green Line Extension, and Infrastructure


*this segment below is reproduced from the Urban Land Institute’s recent report on the state of infrastructure spending in global economies. This segment can be found on page 37 inside the report (page 50 on the pdf)


Boston | Living Off Good Fortune


Boston got lucky: the $14.6 billion Big Dig project will go down in history not only for its notorious cost overruns, but also as the last vestige of the nation’s amply funded interstate highway building boom.Locals may debate whether the network of underground tunnels around the city’s financial district improves traffic flow: studies show bottlenecks have moved away from downtown to now-jammed connectors into the new underground arteries that also link to Logan Airport. Nevertheless, no one misses the unsightly highway overpasses that once bisected the city’s harbor area. And because of the massive project, completed in 2007, Boston’s primary inner-city highways are probably in better condition than those of any other metropolitan area in the country. Without the Big Dig, Boston’s roads would be in a bigger hole: the Massachusetts Turnpike and other major interstates leading into the city require life-cycle overhauls.


Boston’s biggest concern involves mass transit and how to allocate resources increasingly limited by federal cutbacks. The choice boils down to investing as much as possible in new systems to help reduce congestion and car dependency, or shoring up the city’s T subway/rail system, the nation’s oldest underground,which began operating in 1897. A 2009 report found that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), the T’s operator, confronts a $230 million structural deficit and $543 million in unfunded safety-critical projects. Like other under resourced metropolitan transit authorities, the MBTA will be hard pressed to make all necessary upgrades and repairs, even while sharply scaling back plans to expand service.


On MBTA drawing boards since 1995, a $2.6 billion Urban Ring bus network, designed to convert upwards of 41,000 daily car trips to transit alternatives, was scaled back dramatically last year. Certain bus rapid transit routes will be implemented, but the remainder of the plan—to create a circumferential transit corridor around the city—got tabled when the federal government signaled funding cuts from the depleted Highway Trust Fund. Officials say that without the Urban Ring, existing Boston transit lines will be seriously over capacity by 2030. Another high priority, a $1 billion bus tunnel extension for the Green line, looks more problematic, and extension of the Silver line has been sidelined.


More on the Green Line Extension from City of Somerville’s website.