Report: FTA, bailout won#039;t fund MBTA#039;s Silver Line extension

by Beacon Staff • January 28, 2009

Authority's Silver Line expansion proj-

ect along Boylston Street has been hit by

two fatally crippling blows, according to

state officials interviewed by iThe Boston

Globe/i. First, the Federal Transit Author-

ity is expected to deny the MBTA's request

for funding. Second, after that news broke,

Governor Deval Patrick did not include

the Silver Line III project in his wishlist for federal bailout money.,The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's Silver Line expansion project along Boylston Street has been hit by two fatally crippling blows, according to state officials interviewed by iThe Boston Globe/i. First, the Federal Transit Authority is expected to deny the MBTA's request for funding. Second, after that news broke, Governor Deval Patrick did not include the Silver Line III project in his wishlist for federal bailout money.

The final word on FTA matching funds, which would have accounted for 60 percent of the overall costs of the project, will be published in February in an FTA report. It will likely rate the fiscal aspect of the project at medium-low, according to the Globe report. This rating means the FTA considers the monetary challenge potentially too great to fund in light of the MBTA's debts and near bankruptcy. The FTA fears the T may not be able to cover the 40 percent of funds it was expected to contribute.

Even if the project doesn't have the T filing for bankruptcy, iThe Globe/i reports that the FTA fears it will at least force cuts to other parts of the system-namely, the annual upkeep of currently running buses, subways, and trains

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo wrote in an e-mail to the Beacon that no such sacrifices would be made.

"The MBTA has received no formal notification from the FTA regarding Silver Line III," he wrote.

The MBTA can continue to reapply for federal funding, but will continue to be denied unless the MBTA can prove that the Silver Line project can be executed without disrupting the current system, state officials told iThe Globe/i. The FTA did not return phone calls requesting comment.

The federal bailout money would have been a last-minute rescue from FTA's withdrawal of support, but the Silver Line Phase III was not on the list Patrick is expected to submit to Washington. The state's transportation spokesman, Klark Jessen was reported as saying more "shovel-ready" projects were being included.

The project, Silver Line Phase III, would connect the first two phases of the Silver Line and run service to Logan Airport, and is intended to eliminate some downtown traffic in the process. To do this, the MBTA plans to run a tunnel beneath Boylston Street and directly in front of Emerson College. Emersonians worry the project may become a smaller but no less tedious version of the Big Dig, disrupting the campus for a decade, so the probable denial of necessary federal funding comes as a relief to the college.

"I think it's probably a good decision," said film production senior Jill Jones. "I would be very disappointed to be an incoming freshman and have construction interrupting my education."

Students worry that existing problems with the T could be exacerbated by squeezing money for the new project; they cited slow service, filthiness and security issues as current troubles they would rather see fixed.

"I think it was going to be a lot of money put into a big, huge deal over a lot of time," said Luciana Almeida, a junior broadcast journalism major. "I think we have to improve what we have rather than starting something that will create more problems."

Supporters are doggedly hopeful.

Richard Dimino, CEO and President of A Better City, an infrastructure non-profit that supports an expanded Silver Line, encourages students to think more long-term. Domino said the completed Phase III should dramatically improve the college area. He also tried to shake the image of a massively torn-up Boylston Street, swathed entirely in yellow tape during construction.

"There will be impacts of the project in the area in which it will be constructed. That's inevitable," Dimino said. "[But] the MBTA is working on keeping those impacts to a minimum."

He added that, aside from the financial thumbs-down, the report is expected to be favorable in all other respects, pointing to the "medium-high" rating projected for the project's transit service and quality as well as a green light given last spring for 60 percent of the line's preliminary design, up from a previous 30 percent.

"It is actually a substantial step forward for the project," Dimino said, who believes construction will begin on-schedule in 2011. A Better City continues to send proposals for Silver Line funding to the State House.

David Rosen, Vice President of Public Affairs at Emerson College, who vigorously opposed the Silver Line expansion, said he sees this as a possible end.

"It's impossible to say for sure, but I think once the FTA list is published that should be the end of it for now," he said. "I don't think we'll be seeing Silver Line construction on the campus anytime soon."