MBTA Moves Forward With Blue Line Extension Planning

MBTA Blue Line Extension MapLong-planned link between Revere to Lynn, however, still lacks funding source.

Yesterday, the Government of Massachusetts announced that it would sponsor the completion of a planning report on a northeast extension of the MBTA Blue Line. The completion of the Draft Environmental Impact Study, which is a required step on the path to building a major infrastructure project in the United States, will demand about $300,000 in consulting fees. Yet this new guarantee of planning funds in no way ensures the eventual completion of the project, which would stretch from the Blue Line’s existing terminus at Wonderland to Lynn, several miles up the North Shore. Boston’s transit agency is mired in billions of dollars of debt and has a number of projects that are being prioritized over this extension.

The Blue Line opened in 1904 to streetcar operations and was converted to rapid transit technology in 1924. It is the shortest of the MBTA’s several rail transit lines and attracts 67,000 riders a day — high for most transit systems, but not Boston, whose three other lines each carry more than 100,000 daily users.

Massachusetts has been planning for a lengthening of the line to Lynn for years, with state legislators approving a bill in 2004 that committed a 50% funding match if federal dollars to cover the rest of the project’s cost could be found. The project’s eventual construction cost will be more than $600 million. The study will determine the environmental and neighborhood impacts of the project’s route. With the DEIS completed, MBTA could theoretically begin applying for New Starts construction dollars from Washington.

Yet, the Boston region has concentrated funding on other transit priorities. A 0.4-mile Blue Line extension south from Bowdoin to the Charles/MGH Station, where it would meet the Red Line, recently received $29 million in design money from the state, though there is no guarantee the $300 million project will be built. Meanwhile, the light rail Green Line would be stretched from Lechmere into Somerville and beyond if planners on that side of the Charles River get their way — and find more than $900 million. Boston’s Silver Line busway is under constant improvement and will be stretched south along Washington Street. None of these projects are fully funded and the MBTA, which spends 30% of its operating budget to service its more than $5 billion debt, isn’t exactly ready to commit to more transit service.

The above projects were included in the Central Artery/Tunnel (Big Dig) settlement process approved by the state in 1990 as part of a deal to mitigate the impacts of expanding highway capacity through the region’s core, which means they’re prioritized, if Massachusetts is ever capable of finding the tax revenues to cover their cost. The Blue Line expansion to Lynn was not included in that deal as far as I know.

Perhaps even more problematically for the Lynn Blue Line extension, cities along the route have been ignoring MBTA’s demand to reserve right-of-way for the project. The city of Revere allowed the construction of a condominium and parking garage directly in the path of the proposed track, so the MBTA will either have to pay to buy and demolish that building, or it will have to realign the route through a marsh. Either “solution” will increase costs exponentially. It’s unclear why Revere wouldn’t be responsible for covering these new costs.

Just as importantly, a Lynn extension may not be the best investment for Boston. Lynn is already served by MBTA commuter rail, which offers 20-minute service to North Station throughout the day. Also, there are significant arguments to be made for a prioritization of the Green Line, which will serve already dense areas of the region and encourage infill and transit-oriented growth.

Image above: Blue Line extension map, from Future MBTA

7 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Nathanael

    Abolishing the Silver Lie would be a good start.

    Getting construction contractors who can complete a station rehab in less than a decade would be another. :-P

  • Dan Berez

    Extending the Blue Line to Lynn has been promised by every single Massachusetts governor in need of a public relations boost for the past half a century. There is no chance Patrick will be able to find the funds to construct the project. Unlike some of the other possible improvements to the MBTA, such as restoring the E Line of the Green Line, extending the Green Line to Needham Heights, extending the Blue Line to Charles/MGH, constructing the Fairmount DMU Line (which really should be constructed as a heavy rail line), replacing the Silver Line with light rail, and constructing the Somerville Green Line extension, the Blue Line extension has many potential conflicts with property owners and environmentalists. When Patrick can’t find the funding, he can blame it on these groups instead of admitting the idea was nearly impossible in the first place.

    On the other hand, if the funding does open up for a true extension of the Blue Line to Lynn and points north, I would welcome it with open arms. A temporary or even replacement solution, with long lasting benefits, would be to electrify and double or even triple track the commuter rail line from North Station to South Salem (adding additional tracks to the Salem tunnel would be prohibitively expensive) and operate it as a rapid transit style line. Additional stations in Everett and Chelsea could be added. These improvements could also permit express service for the Newburyport and Rockport branches.

  • Kyle

    The Blue Line extension is a good project and should happen, but there are many other higher priorities, as mentioned above by Dan. Not to mention the need for Phase III of the Urban Ring (phase II is a complete waste of time and money). But, with the massive T debt load, lack of new revenue and the T’s insistence with pushing BRT projects, the projects that should be built probably won’t be and if they are, they might end up being a running joke like the silver line.

  • The Blue Line extension is a good project and should happen, but there are many other higher priorities, as mentioned above by Dan. Not to mention the need for Phase III of the Urban Ring (phase II is a complete waste of time and money). But, with the massive T debt load, lack of new revenue and the T’s insistence with pushing BRT projects, the projects that should be built probably won’t be and if they are, they might end up being a running joke like the silver line.

  • skranish

    Oh, come on people. Look at the map.. the ENTIRE extension shares right of way with an existing, heavily used commuter rail line. A ride on the Blue Line extension would trade a scheduled, 20 minute seated ride from Lynn to Boston for a standing 45+ minute ride on the Blue Line. Blue Line cars are tiny – they are built to a 1920s streetcar loading gauge – so they have few, longitudinal seats. The vast majority of passengers stand for the entire trip. Larger cars would require reconstruction of the harbor tunnel and subway under Boston – not likely to ever happen!

    It won’t be faster than the existing train, and there is no particular reason to believe it will run all that much more often than the train
    As it stands, Lynn is the only high platform station on the eastern main line, so the stops there are actually short compared to other stations such as Salem and Beverly.

    I remember a speech long ago by some elected official, explaining how the lack of a transit line to Lynn created an “artificial barrier preventing the good citizens of Lynn from availing themselves of the educational opportunities in Boston”. Really? Someone who wants to go to college is going to be prevented from doing so by the need to read and follow a train schedule? I would rather have a comfortable, seated ride – so I can read and study while in transit!

    If any sort of extension is built, it should NOT go to Lynn – it should go out Rt 60 to US 1, with a big garage over the horrible Rt1 interchange. This would actually capture commuters who currently drive into the city.

  • Brendon

    Extending the blue line up to Lynn is ridiculous. While we’re at it, why not extend the green line all the way out to Framingham?

    The point of a subway is to connect the urbanized periphery of a city, not the suburbs. That is what the commuter rail is for. This state should stop wasting time and money contemplating these far-fetched ideas and start concentrating on the subway’s more realistic logistical problems like its poor connection to Somerville, Everett, and Chelsea.

  • jeff darling

    the people of LYNN deserve the blue line extension.the service is more frequent and less costly than the bus and commuter rail.i slso believe it would be good for business too.just my opinion.

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