"Today is the day that the doubters will become believers," said Medford Mayor Michael McGlynn, speaking in Somerville Tuesday about the Green Line Extension.
"The shovels are now in the ground, and we all look forward to a cleaner environment, economic expansion, job creation, increased revenue, [and] transit-oriented development opportunities," he said.
McGlynn also said phase one of the Green Line Extension, which will reconstruct the Harvard Street bridge in South Medford, will help relieve flooding problems in the area.
McGlynn joined Gov. Patrick and other officials at a kickoff ceremony for phase one of the transit project.
"Of course there are naysayers, there always are," Gov. Deval Patrick said at the event. "They say we should stop trying to extend the Green Line and stop trying to build South Coast Rail. They want us to hunker down and wait, wait out the fiscal cliff, wait out the next budget cycle, wait me out, for that matter."
It's an economic growth strategy that doesn't work, the governor argued, and the state needs to invest in infrastructure projects like the Green Line Extension. "We cannot afford to wait and let our future happen to us," he said.
Watch more of Patrick's speech here.
Phase one of the Green Line Extension is the first step in a $1.3 billion project that, when complete, would add six new Green Line stations to the MBTA's light-rail line, extending it through Somerville to near Tufts University in Medford.
The kickoff event, held near the Commuter Rail tracks in the parking lot behind Target, drew a large crowd, and speakers also included Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, Rep. Michael Capuano and Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey, among others.
Curtatone called the beginning of phase one a "critical milestone" and said Tuesday's kickoff was "as momentous" a day for the city as Jan. 1, 1776—the day George Washington, commanding Continental forces in Boston, ordered the Grand Union Flag to be flown from the top of Prospect Hill.
"You cannot have a growing and sustainable 21st century economy without a growing and sustainable 21st century transportation system," Curtatone said.
Phase one represents a small sliver of the entire Green Line Extension project. It consists of of reconstructing two bridges and tearing down a building. Crews will reconstruct the Medford Street railroad bridge in Somerville and the Harvard Street railroad bridge in Medford. Doing so will allow both Commuter Rail and Green Line trains to use the bridges. Workers will also knock down a building at 21 Water St. in Cambridge, which will help prepare that area for the new Lechmere Station.
A press release from the governors office says phase one will cost $12.9 million, though Davey, speaking after the event, said the cost would be close to $20 million. Either way, it represents less than 1.5 percent of the project's entire cost.
That said, the beginning of phase one also represents an important moment for those who have worked for years and even decades to bring the Green Line Extension to Somerville.
Funding the whole Green Line Extension
The total cost of the project is a bit of a moving target. The press release said it would cost about $1.12 billion, but a letter from the Federal Transit Administration regarding an application for federal funds notes the project is projected to cost a little over $1.3 billion.
The first trains aren't expected to roll into Somerville until the completion of phase two, which will bring the Green Line to Union Square and Washington Street. That's expected to be complete by the end of 2017.
Davey, speaking after the event, said the Green Line Extension has already secured $350 million to complete phase two. He also said the MBTA began, on Friday, soliciting letters of interest from contracts for phase two.
Most of the funding for the project, however, hasn't been secured.
Capuano, making a reference to that reality, said, "No matter what kind of commitment we get from the governor, we all know his term expires soon enough. We need to get as much of this project done and committed, in an irrevocable way, before his term is up."
Watch more of Capuano's speech here.
The MBTA and Massachusetts Department of Transportation are seeking $557 million from the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program for the project. The federal administration officially accepted the Green Line Extension into its initial "pipeline" in July but said it was unlikely to fully fund the project unless Massachusetts fixes its transportation funding mess.
Patrick, speaking to reporters after the kickoff ceremony, spoke about the need to create "a comprehensive, long-term strategy and a financing mechanism" for funding the state's transportation needs.
Patrick: Project will "absolutely" be complete, even without federal dollars
Asked if the Green Line Extension would get completed without federal funding, the governor said, "absolutely, absolutely."
"We need to make plans for paying for this with the contingency we don't have a federal contribution, because the project has a worth that justifies it."