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Somerville and Medford mayors discuss Green Line extension, T's largest expansion in decades

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An MBTA map illustrating the newly added Green Line stops extending past Lechmere station into Somerville and Medford. The expansion is expected to be running and open to the public starting Dec. 12, 2022. (Sharon Brody/WBUR)
An MBTA map illustrating the newly added Green Line stops extending past Lechmere station into Somerville and Medford. The expansion is expected to be running and open to the public starting Dec. 12, 2022. (Sharon Brody/WBUR)

Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne remembers it well. In 2005, Ballantyne says, her young daughter spoke at a public meeting that considered the plan for the MBTA's Green Line to expand into Somerville and Medford. Ballantyne says her second-grader stood up and told the Massachusetts Transportation Secretary that she wanted to "see clean air for my friends."

Ballantyne says many of her daughter's friends at a Somerville elementary school near Route 93 had asthma. And she says after the meeting, her daughter asked her, "Mama? When can I ride the train?"

Seventeen years later, Ballantyne and her now 26-year-old daughter will join the passengers on the first train from College Avenue Station at Tufts University.

It's taken decades of hearings, legal action, planning and delays, but the Green Line extension into Medford from Lechmere station in Cambridge is finally becoming a reality.

Trains will start rolling on Monday at 4:45 a.m.

The MBTA projects 45,000 riders a day will use the seven stations on the Green Line Extension by 2030.

This marks the largest expansion of the MBTA subway system in decades.

Staci Rubin, the Vice President of Environmental Justice at Conservation Law Foundation, calls Monday's event, "a victory, 32 years in the making."

In fact, Rubin points out that a key development occurred "almost exactly 32 years to the day" before this month's inaugural run of the new T branch.

"Conservation Law Foundation signed a settlement agreement [on December 19, 1990] with various state agencies," says Rubin, and the settlement "included a commitment to build the Green Line extension to Ball Square and Medford."

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) had filed a lawsuit to force the state to address the increases in traffic and air pollution in conjunction with the Big Dig — the project to place the Central Artery of Interstate-93 underground. The environmental group claimed the massive Public Works project would violate the Clean Air Act.

In 2005, the Foundation took further legal action after the state failed to comply with the original agreement.

Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn says the new public transportation options in Medford will help the city reach its climate action goals.

"We want to be...reduced to zero emissions by 2050, just like the state," says Lungo-Koehn. "So public transit in general, never mind a station like the GLX's two stops in Medford, is helping with that goal and it's moving us forward on so many levels."

In Somerville, Mayor Ballantyne says the new train service will improve the lives of residents.

"The environmental impacts? We get cleaner air," she says. "We are anticipating that there will be about 45,000 less vehicle trips per day with the extension."

Ballantyne also points out that with the new Green Line T stops in Somerville, "nearly the entire city will be within a 12 minute walk of a subway station."

An MBTA Green Line train during testing on Dec. 5. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
An MBTA Green Line train during testing on Dec. 5. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The Conservation Law Foundation's Staci Rubin wants the state to meet a commitment made by former Governor Deval Patrick.

"We are eager for the state, for the Department of Transportation, to do an assessment and figure out what are the costs and benefits of completing the extension all the way out to Route 16," says Rubin.

Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn says her city is on board. "We also have already been advocating to extend it to Route 16 and to do an environmental study, which is the first next step, because we feel that this is going to have nothing but a positive impact on our community."

Rubin says the CLF hopes the incoming administration of Governor-elect Maura Healey will support the study.

This segment aired on December 11, 2022.

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