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Hints of tension between Boston and state officials with Allston highway project

The Massachusetts Turnpike along the Charles River in Allston.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

The latest environmental filing for the planned Massachusetts Turnpike rebuild in Allston hints of possible tension between city and state officials as they hash out the hugely complex project.

On Friday, the state laid out three versions of the project it will consider: one that replaces the existing turnpike viaduct in the narrow space along the Charles River; another that brings the highway to grade and elevates Soldiers Field Road on a new viaduct; and one that puts everything at ground level. The Friday filing was in some ways routine — all three options had previously been announced, and a decision is not expected until later in the year.


But in the fine print, state officials appeared to decline a request from Boston Chief of Streets Chris Osgood that could facilitate the idea to build everything at grade.

That’s the version preferred by many community and interest groups who have been debating the project for years. But the state has mostly taken a dim view of the option, arguing it would be difficult to fit everything on land without requiring infill or construction over the Charles and severely hampering the permitting process.

In a note to Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack last month, Osgood suggested the state consider a version of the at-grade design with 10-foot lanes on Soldiers Field Road and two-foot shoulders on the highway, rather than a design with wider infrastructure that was presented in June.

That version has been championed by the business group A Better City as a way to preserve some of the slender space along between the Charles and Boston University and minimize the impact on the river. The design would also include a boardwalk over the river to carry the Paul Dudley White bicycle and pedestrian path. It does not suggest an auto lane reduction, as some river-focused advocates have pushed.


In the recent filing, however, the state’s vision of the all-at-grade option calls for four-foot shoulders, which officials said help with clearing snow and draining storm water, and 11-foot lanes on Soldiers Field Road, eating up some of the space Osgood’s suggestion might have saved.

It may not amount to a complete dismissal of the idea. Rick Dimino, A Better City’s president and a former Boston transportation commissioner, said he has been told the narrower design could still be considered going forward. But not including it in the filing puts the concept at a disadvantage, he said.

This isn’t the first sign of conflict between the state and the city on this project. In June, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh signed a letter expressing concern about building a new turnpike viaduct, just days before Pollack announced the state would consider that option.

Pollack and other Baker administration officials have since indicated that version could be a likely choice because it would not interfere with the river. The project’s political dimensions extend in other directions, too; Senate President Karen Spilka, who represents MetroWest commuters who drive or take transit through the stretch, has suggested the highway viaduct may be the simplest option, although she has not specifically stated a preference.

Osgood declined to comment on the state’s filing, saying in a statement: “We look forward to working with the state and the community on a design that best achieves” the project’s goals. The state Department of Transportation declined to comment on Osgood’s suggestion.