City, MBTA Square Off In Battle Over Red Line

NEWS ANALYSIS

If the events of this last week are any indication of things to come, the proposed extension of the Red Line through Harvard Square to the Alewife Parkway may face delays from several months to several years.

Only once in a long while do the residents of Cambridge and the city's government agree on an issue. But when these two vocal and potentially powerful groups join forces, as they have over the Red Line extension, an extended fight is sure to come.

Hell to Pay

The last time the groups teamed up--in the controversy over the restrictions surrounding Harvard's recombinant DNA laboratories--there was hell to pay. This time offers no brighter prospects.

Red Line Alert, a coalition of three Cambridge resident groups, filed Wednesday in federal district court to ask for an injunction against construction activities by the Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority (MBTA). The success of this suit may hinge on the city's role in the legal battle.

Monday's 7-2 City Council vote to adopt a non-binding moratorium on construction indicates that the Council may join in the injunction suit. But non-binding moratoriums are a leap away from legal action and Cambridge Mayor Thomas W. Danehy is unsure of council support.

Fists Flying

Danehy, the strongest proponent in City Hall of the moratorium, has said he will "keep swinging." His success in rallying council support may well be the acid test of his ability to control the council.

There is no doubt that the Council must act quickly. After winning round one in a federal district court, the MBTA accepted a contractor's bid for construction of a tunnel from Harvard Square to Porter Square.

Spokesmen for the contracting consortium said yesterday that construction activities could begin in as little as six weeks.

By asking for a halt on construction of the line from Harvard Square to the Alewife Parkway, Cambridge's citizens may be cornering themselves. Even the staunchest opponents of the MBTA's current plans for extending the Red Line say they want the subway extended to Rte. 128, as originally planned.

Earlier this month, however, the MBTA received the first chunk of nearly half a billion dollars in federal funds earmarked for the extension project.

MBTA Chairman Robert Kiley warned the citizens that any delays in construction could affect the status of these funds. "Uncle Sam does not hesitate to take money not being spent on a local level and use it on the nearest squeaky wheel that comes along," Kiley said.

If the citizens of Cambridge are waiting for the funds that will guarantee extension past Alewife to Rte. 128, then they must realistically wait about 20 years, Donald Graham, MBTA planning director, said earlier this week.

For every month construction waits, MBTA spokesmen are quick to point out, three million dollars is lost. But this is only one side of the question.

If Cambridge residents, businessmen and officials are worried enough about the MBTA's current plans for extension of the Red Line, they must also, it seems, be willing to sacrifice the total package