State transportation officials were hesitant to use the word "delay," but expressed concerns Monday that work on the Green Line Extension is running behind an internal target with about two years remaining until passenger service is set to begin.
Project managers told the MBTA's oversight board that they had hoped to complete shifting existing commuter rail tracks by September to make way for the eventual new Green Line track. Now, however, they hope to finish that before winter, citing "schedule pressures" in their presentation.
While GLX representatives downplayed the risk of delay and said they have enough time to recover the original schedule, Fiscal and Management Control Board Chair Joseph Aiello told the project's representatives "throw everything you got at it" to stave off a delay.
Referring to the board, Aiello said, "Count us as very worried."
"It would be really, really, really damaging to not keep this project on schedule," he said. "We've got to get this job on schedule for the people who are waiting for the service as well as the larger context of what we're trying to achieve as an organization. This has got a lot of eyeballs on it."
John Dalton, hired by the MBTA in 2016 to oversee the project, told reporters he does not believe the board should be worried about progress.
"There's schedule changing all the time," he said. "Some things are happening earlier, some things are happening later. This one's happening later than planned. But the fact that we are two years away from being done with this project means there's time to recover it."
He said if timing was still off in a year and there were fewer opportunities to address any delays, he would "start to ask more direct questions," but stood by his answer to Aiello that the project remains "on time."
The $2.3 billion Green Line Extension is one of the most significant expansions undertaken by the MBTA in decades. Once completed, it will add six new stations beyond the current endpoint at Lechmere, branching into both Medford and Somerville.
Passenger service is scheduled to begin in December 2021.
To make room for the new Green Line trains, crews are widening an existing corridor that has only Lowell line commuter rail tracks. Once complete, the commuter rail and Green Line will run side-by-side.
Other internal milestones, such as design build proposals and bid openings, have been on schedule so far, according to Dalton's presentation.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said she agrees with the board that "we expect the joint venture to produce the project on time and on schedule," but she stopped short of describing the project as delayed.
"There are schedule pressures, as Project Director Dalton talked about," Pollack told reporters. "As we sit here in August of 2019, there still should be time to recover from those pressures."