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Green Line Extension: Infrastructure Underway After Nearly Four Decades of Planning

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) selected the Texas contractor, GLX Constructors, to make the long awaited—brewing for decades—Green Line Extension an impending reality. The secured contract for the Green Line Extension Project makes GLX the holder of the largest MBTA construction contract to-date: $1 billion.

Among the MBTA shortlist for internationally reputable companies to design and build the complex Greenline Extension were Green Line Partners; Walsh Barletta Granite, JV; and the contract holder, GLX Constructors. GLX presented a competitive project bid around $200 million less than the MBTA project cap of $1.3 billion that the MBTA proved to be unwilling to forego.

GLX Constructor’s enticing bid to build the long-delayed 4.7-mile Greenline Extension spanning from Lechmere in Cambridge to Tufts University in Medford includes amenities like a public art program, pathways, elevators, and a vehicle maintenance facility in Somerville to name a few.

To achieve the Greenline Extension Project, GLX Constructors will enlist its various construction and engineering firms. The GLX joint venture will not be a rookie one, as they previously successfully completed Denver’s commuter line and Maryland’s Purple Line.

In addition to outbidding the other finalists for the project, GLX’s bid offered the most value by promising to restore amenity features—like pedestrian and cycling paths, canopies, and public art—that were eliminated during previous cost-cutting efforts due to ballooning costs nearly resulting in the death of the project in 2015.

The GLX contract is a long-awaited progression in the long-planned and persistently uncertain transit extension project.

The GLX Constructors Contract

The estimated project total cost is $2.3 billion. The MBTA capped the Green Line Extension Project contract at $1.3 billion which will come from state and local governments. The additional $1 billion needed to fund the project will come from the federal government.

In 2015, the Green Line Extension Project estimated total cost ballooned to $3 billion nearly resulting in scrapping the entire project. By cutting many amenities associated with the project, the state was able to reduce the total project cost to the current $2.3 billion.

With the $2.3 billion project budget, the plan was for $1 billion to be funded by the feds and $1.3 billion to be funded by the state and local governments. GLX’s bid at approximately $1 billion will result in both the federal government and state and local governments funding the project nearly equally with many of the previously eliminated amenities in tow.

To eliminate the possibility of ballooning project costs, the MTBA contract format prevents GLX Constructors from stretching costs regardless of their low bid.

The Somerville Mayor celebrated the GLX contract eager for the Green Line to extend to Somerville. Both the cities of Cambridge and Somerville contributed to funding the project with anticipation of recovering the funds from real estate developers—real estate and land in proximity to the Green Line Extension is expected to increase in value.

Overview of the Green Line Extension Project

The rapid transit system saw its first expansion with the Red Line in 1985, and since then, the expansion of the Green Line has been in-talks. The Green Line Extension Project planning was initiated nearly four decades ago in the 1980s. The Green Line Extension Project has been turbulent and uncertain and has endured in times that it was nearly eliminated in its entirety. The project’s endurance can be justified by the same reasoning the Trump administration decided to prioritize the Green Line Extension Project: the project has the potential to transform the region.

Project planning has been riddled with many modifications, delays, and budget overhauls over the years, but the 4.7-mile Green Line Extension may soon be a reality.

For several years leading up to 2015, the Green Line Extension project was planned on macro and micro levels. Real estate developers and owners were marketing properties based on the impending Green Line Extension including renovations and increased rent rates. Homes were being strategically purchased in proximity to the anticipated new stations on the Green Line.

Then in 2015, the Green Line Extension Project was nearly eliminated due to ballooned project costs. The possibility of abolishing the entire project wreaked worry on the community—property values had increased, real estate developments were underway, and homes had been brokered reliant on the future stations.

In 2015, when the total project budget reached $3 billion, to keep the project active, the MTBA terminated the firm contracted to design and build the project and cut amenities associated with the project to reduce the total project budget to the current $2.3 billion project cost.

In May of 2016, the newly revised $2.3 billion Green Line Extension Project plan was submitted to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Nearly a year later, the FTA approved the new $2.3 billion project cost estimate including federal funding of $1 billion for the project. The additional $1.3 billion for the project will be funded by state and local governments. GLX Constructors is contracted to design and build the extension at their bid price of around $1 billion. As of right now, chairpersons say the extra funds in the budget will remain unused in the case of unforeseen issues with the project.

The current Green Line Extension Project plan spans 4.7-miles to Medford and includes six stations (instead of the original seven). The six stations include Union Square, Gilman Square, Magoun Square, Ball Square, and Tufts University—above which Tuft’s will construct a new university-funded building. The project will also feature relocation of the Lechmere stop.

The project will roll-out in two branches: one following the Fitchburg Line to Somerville’s Union Square, and the other following the Lowell Line to Medford.

The competitive GLX contract allows the project to boast community-friendly amenities including some elevators and fare gates—though many stations will be without such accouterments—, a public art program, canopies for open-air stations, and a vehicle maintenance facility. The Friends of the Community Path group’s full 7,000-foot pedestrian and cycling path will be built in the Green Line Extension Project.

The Trump Administration has expressed great interest in seeing the project be a success by shortlisting the project as an infrastructure priority, a budget-friendly constructor has been contracted, and ancillary construction including infrastructure development is already in progress—project construction may finally break-ground before the end of 2017. New station openings are anticipated for 2021.

Planners Have Sights on Additional Green Line Extensions

Upon completion of the Green Line Extension Project, the Green Line is expected to yield approximately 50K daily trips deeming the extension an enormous asset to the region.

Though it has been a long and taxing endeavor to begin infrastructure work for the Green Line Extension Project—and many are both weary and hopeful that the project construction will break ground imminently—talks have already begun about an additional expansion to the project.

The additional expansion would service the community deeper into Medford to Route 16. An additional expansion is not currently funded and would be treated as a project separate from the current Green Line Extension Project.

There is speculation that due to the GLX contract being under budget, the remaining funds from state and local governments for the Green Line Extension projects could be shifted to fund a Green Line Extension to reach Route 16.

A spokesman with the project announced that the budgetary cushion will remain for now to mitigate risk, but he did not eliminate the possibility of shifting funds for additional extension of the Green Line in future should the remaining funds be available.

Green Line Extension: A Project of Distinct Magnitude

The extension project began affecting the region long before infrastructure began. Areas in proximity to the future Green Line stops have been rising in property values, rent rates, and development activity along the Green Line route for a number of years.

In 2012, the first major development—costing around $52 million and offering 184 luxury apartments—opened along the Green Line Extension pathway near the anticipated Magoun Square station: Windsor at Maxwell’s Green.

The opening of Winsor at Maxwell’s Green kicked-off the Green Line Extension route development surge.

The impending rail extension is enabling denser development to occur—the cities wouldn’t be able to endure the additional traffic associated with densification making the Green Line Extension crucial to the area’s real estate growth. Cambridge and Somerville revised their zoning rules to accommodate denser development and a development surge around the Green Line Extension.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council anticipates that the Green Line Extension will promote development of around 5.5K new residences and 6M square feet of commercial space.

Commercial and Mixed-use Real Estate

The CommonWealth Magazine reported that the Green Line Extension will be unlocking the next great corridor of innovation. The mixed-use and commercial development boom is anticipated to bring around 14,365 permanent jobs to the area alone—the development construction work will add additional work opportunities for the community.

The developments budding along the Green Line are seemingly animations of the communities’ energy behind the Green Line Extension finally nearing tangibility after decades of waiting. The commercial and multi-use real estate developments have been innovative and vivacious.

Somerville’s Union Square, like Cambridge’s Inman Square, is a startup hub—perfect places to continue eclectic growth. Somerville’s Union Square will be reaping the Green Line Extension real-estate-reward. Developers are working to implement a substantial overhaul of Union Square with $1B commercial and mixed-use space renovation plans of the blocks around Union Square amounting to a new 2.3 million square-feet in the booming real-estate scene including lab, hotel, office, arts, and retail spaces, and nearly 1,000 residences.

A Union Square storage warehouse has been transformed into what is now Bow Market. Bow Market is a notable example of unencumbered creativity in the new commercial real estate scene accompanying the to-be extended rail line. The fate of the market holds over 30 storefronts boasting pop-up small businesses such as arts, retail, and food including earmarked spaces for craft brewery, theatre, and comedy club tenants—inviting a vibrant community experience.

It’s heavily speculated that the new Somerville developments are being catalyzed by the now imminent Union Square stop provided by the Green Line Extension.

Somerville will also home the new Ball Square station—the walkable area already a pinpoint of development-boom. The City of Somerville approved the gentrification of a nearby school into a mixed-use development, the Powder House. The building is a sustainable development featuring 11.3K square feet of commercial space, more than 69K square feet of open green space, and 48 apartments.

Multi-family Real Estate

Multi-family developments are also arriving in a wave over the Green Line Extension route landscape.

The first large apartment complex development along the Green Line Extension was The Sphere. The Sphere, a 42-unit apartment development, is in walkable proximity from Ball Square station.

Numerous other multi-family developments with station walkability in mind are on the horizon.

Residential Real Estate

The Green Line Extension project has sparked a residential housing development boom in Cambridge and Somerville along the extensions route.

Not only does the soon-to-be extension route have residential development on-the-rise, but home and condo prices along the rail line extension are increasing—and residences in close proximity to the future stations have skyrocketed in price. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council projects that neighborhoods along the extension will see property values rise from 16- to 25-percent.

Green Line Extension Project: What to Expect

The Green Line Extension Project status appears strongly promising. With the $2.3 billion plan in place and funding intact, GLX Constructors contracted, project infrastructure underway, ground-breaking for project construction appears imminently promising—but the community awaits construction with cautious optimism.

Due to the project’s history, many buyers and brokers maintain weary with crossed fingers, but real estate and banking experts are weighing-in that the project is simply too advantageous to fall apart now.

Construction could commence late this year or early next year, with Green Line Extension stations expected to open in 2021.

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