photo courtesy of Boston Globe

In this morning’s Boston Globe there’s a feature report on the Green Line extension through Somerville to Medford. The new service runs for only 4.7 miles, yet the cost will run to almost $ 2 billion and the work will take two more years to complete (the target date for commencing service is 2021). AS the Globe reports, the new tracks involve bridge rebuilding, right of way widening, noise barriers, new stations, and in the meantime, much detouring of traffic on Somerville’s Broadway and Washington Streets:

I doubt this enormous dislocation and rebuilding could ever have been accomplished without solid support from Somerville’;s Mayor and City officials. How else to suffer the inconveniences for several years ? And all of that for a mere 4.7 miles of new track.

Keep that in mind when advocates berate the Baker administration — as many do, every day — about MBTA improvements. Reforming Boston’s public transportation isn’t easy or quick. It could be done 100 years ago, or even 60, before neighborhood activists learned to assemble, or zoning laws took hold. Then, eminent domain moves could easily acquire a right of way. Today, not gonna happen. Extending the Blue Line, as many activists propose — disclosure : i support doing it — sounds good, but it involves Revere and Lynn, and maybe Swampscott and Salem, and it means buying up a right of way — or widening existing rights — and building stations. Blue Line extension was first seriously proposed at least 25 years ago. It still hasn’t moved beyond the talking stage. Will it do so now ? I wonder. Connecting the Red Line to the Blue Line is simpler : an existing track already exists, bet.ween Bowdoin Street and the Charles Street Bridge. (T trains once traveled that track. Why did they stop ?) As for other MBTA reforms, they face every obstacle that the Green Line extension spent a decade overcoming.

More radical transit advocates want much more draconian moves. They see the presence of cars on city streets as the big problem — it is one, to be sure — and the T as the solution. make it so expensive to drive a car into Boston that only the rich will be able to afford it. To these advocates, its not enough that those who drive into Boston face parking fees of $ 20.00 a day and up, or that they pay tolls to use the fastest roads, or that municipalities impose a once “temporary” excise tax on vehicle owners, or that parking meter fines continue to rise, $ 90.00 now being the bottom line in Boston, or t.hat if you happen to get towed in Boston, you’ll pay 4 142 to $ 245 just to get your car back, plus the inconvenience of finding a way to get to where it has been towed. Boston and its adjacent communities already crush car owners. Add to their imposts the cost of car insurance — I pay $ 181 a month, $ 2200 a year — and of inspection, car repair, gasoline, and maybe an auto loan, and you’e put car ownership way out of reach for people on limited incomes. None of t.his is enough for radical anti-automobile advocates. They seek to penalize Uber and Lyft rides with fees and fines. They want the State’s gas tax, already onerous, raise even higher. They want a “miles driven” tax. Some have recently proposed something called ” congestion pricing,” a law which, if enacted, will credit those who drive in off-peak traffic hours. That’s fine, if you can do that. Most of us cannot. As for the explosion of Uber and Lyft cars taking commuters to Logan Airport or picking them up, why should they pay a fine or a fee for providing a service vital to our City’s hectic economy of prosperity ? I suppose that one-way designation can fend Uber and Lyft cars off East Boston local streets: why not institute that ?

Without question traffic on East Boston streets has ballooned past the toleration point : residents on residential streets reasonably wish their street to be free of pass-through traffic. East Bostonians — and others — thus ask why the State cannot push major MBTA build-outs quickly. At least put plans in place, they ask. And so ? The State is doing so. A comprehensive transportation plan was released three months ago — I wrote about it at the time. It’s an ambitious plan that takes environmental issues into account as well as traffic concerns. It will not, however, be quick. How can it be ? We would like to see many more trains put in service on the T lines, than the few which now ruin ? That requires major upgrades to track, switch, and signaling — all of which is being done now and will be be done all the way to 2022, at a cost of $ 8 billion. The Baker administration has also begun work to repair some major bridges in serious need: these include the Mystic River span and the bridges that connect Charlestown to Boston and to Everett. Doing these all at once requires “two years of pain,” as my friend at the T said to me, but “that’s less than the four years it would take if we did it piecemeal.”

In sum, there is no easy or simple answer to our transportation predicament. I do not favor making it even more expensive for cars than it already is, and i do not favor tax impositions arising from the desire to hurry transportation improvements. We do need more trains on the T lines, and more effective bus routing, and these will require the line upgrades which I mentioned earlier and the coming on service of the T’s electric buses, now planned for 2022-2023. We’re not wrong to want more people to use the T and buses, and fewer to choose car travel into the City; but I think we’ve already reached the maximum T and bus preference that can be expect without penalizing people for preferring the precision and efficiency of cars. Public roadways are not property of those who reside on them. If residents want power over who may use their street, let their street become private, as some streets are. As long as tax dollars are used, however, to maintain a public street, the public has a right to use them. If we are going to bring the T and buses to optimum performance, many years of incremental improvement will be needed — to stay within budget and to meet all of the myriad concerns and interests that any transportation proposal faces, from environment and convenience to cost and design. Let the decade and more that it took to get Green Line extension on its way be alesson t.o us all in t.his complex matter.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere