Will the Green Line Extension Ever Happen?

The state breaks ground on the project, despite lacking the funds to finish it.

Photo by Meghan Ireland

On Tuesday, the MBTA finally started construction on the Green Line Extension in Somerville, the first step toward completion of the long-awaited project. When finished  — supposedly in 2020 — the Green Line will extend from Lechmere through Somerville and into Medford, adding six much-needed new T stops, including stops in Union Square and Ball Square.

The usual group of prominent political figures attended the ground-breaking, including Governor Deval Patrick, Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey, Congressman Michael Capuano, and Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone. All were eager to simultaneously bask in the limelight of a transportation project and to promise citizens: “Hey guys, we swear: The Green Line is going to get built this time. Double-pinkie swear.”

As much as I want to see the Green Line Extension completed, color me skeptical. This project has been delayed numerous times, driving up the ultimate cost from $600 million to $934 million in 2009 to $1.3 billion today. And yesterday’s kick off event was celebrating only Phase 1 of the project, a $12.9 million burst to reconstruct a couple bridges and tear down a building in Cambridge. (Is it even fair to call a $12.9 project out of $1.3 billion “Phase 1”? Shouldn’t it be the “Prologue,” at best? Maybe just a “Throat-Clearing”?)

But back to the point: Where’s the rest of that money going to come from? No one knows! The MBTA is currently $5.2 billion in debt! Davey told Somerville Patch that the MBTA has already secured $350 million to complete Phase II—which will extend the Green line to Union Square and Washington Street by 2017—but how about that other $950 million? The state is hoping a large chunk of that will come from the Federal Transit Administration, but hasn’t secured it yet. More from Patch:

Asked if the Green Line Extension would get completed without federal funding, the governor said, “absolutely, absolutely.”

“We need to make plans for paying for this with the contingency we don’t have a federal contribution, because the project has a worth that justifies it,” he said.

Yes: The project is absolutely worth building—the MBTA estimates that 45,000 riders would be using the new stops daily. Somerville and Medford need it. But where will get the actual money to construct it?