Allston has been divided in half by the Massachusetts Turnpike for six decades. Now, the Wu and Baker administrations are taking a major step in a $2 billion project that would stitch the neighborhood back together over the next two decades.
Mayor Michelle Wu on Wednesday met with reporters at a former rail yard alongside the Pike in Allston to herald an application for $1.2 billion in federal infrastructure funds that she and state transportation secretary Jamey Tesler sent to Washington last week. Wu had just toured the Beacon Park Yard property, now owned by Harvard University, with Tesler and other state officials.
Wu and Tesler are seeking federal assistance to realign the turnpike so it runs alongside the commuter rail tracks through the neighborhood and at ground level, instead of above ground on a viaduct. The I-90 Allston Multimodal Project would allow Harvard to develop on decks that would go above the tracks and the realigned highway. Wu described this project, which also includes a new transportation hub to be called West Station, as a remedy to the injustice caused by the Pike’s construction in the 1960s.
“We are standing on the brink of having a path forward for that,” said Wu, flanked by politicians and community activists from Allston and Brighton. “This will create jobs for decades and generations to come. It will create cleaner air, healthier communities, and an incredible amount of opportunity.”
Wu’s chief of streets, Jascha Franklin-Hodge, said city officials hope to learn in the fall whether they win some or all of the requested funds and that more federal money would be available in the future if the first application comes up short.
“There’s no question whether this will happen,” Wu said. “The question is when and how the funding streams come together [although] federal funding would be a huge burst for us in accelerating this.”
Also chipping in amounts yet to be determined: the state, the city, and Harvard.
Harvard’s financial involvement has been pegged to West Station. In 2018, the university committed $8 million toward a temporary station, followed by $50 million for a permanent one, though the station’s final cost is expected to be much more. The new station is envisioned as not only a new stop on the Worcester/Framingham commuter line, but also a place to connect Allston to Kendall Square in Cambridge by rail via what’s known as the Grand Junction, and a north-south connection for buses between Harvard’s Cambridge and Allston campuses and the Longwood Medical Area in Boston.
The City of Boston, meanwhile, would help finance new local streets in the Beacon Park area — up to 100 acres of Harvard-owned land that would be opened up for redevelopment. It’s unclear what that street work will cost, or how much of it, if any, would be paid by new taxes levied in the development.
“The city is looking at the local streets being created as part of this project as something that we would participate in financially, either directly or through the development process,” Franklin-Hodge said. “We’re not at a point where we’re looking at specific financing mechanisms yet.”
Also up in the air: exactly what Harvard and its development partners would be allowed to build there. Harvard has already run into neighborhood resistance with what it calls the Enterprise Research Campus, a 36-acre development across Western Avenue from Harvard Business School. Tishman Speyer, Harvard’s development partner for the ERC, is seeking Boston Planning & Development Agency approval for the first phase there — a 900,000-square-foot mixed-use complex.
Wu indicated that more discussions need to take place before that project gets the green light. In particular, Wu cited the neighborhood’s desire for more affordable housing, more open space, and more clarity about Harvard’s long-term plans in the area.
“We continue to be in conversations with Harvard and most importantly with our community about what we need to see,” Wu said.
Harvard has not publicly said what it wants to see built in this area — beyond the first two phases of the ERC, totaling 14 acres. The federal grant application cites up to 4.7 million square feet of development potential in the ERC, and another 3.8 million square feet in Beacon Park through the transportation project’s end date of 2040, with millions more to come after that. The development could create more than 12,000 new jobs and add at least 3,000 new housing units.
City and state officials worked closely with Harvard to prepare the grant application. Mark Handley, director of government relations at Harvard, stood with the advocates and politicians behind Wu at the press conference. Harvard recently appointed two new key players in its Allston development plans: Meredith Weenick will be promoted to become the university’s next executive vice president, taking over this summer for Katie Lapp, while Carl Rodrigues was hired from New York City to oversee the Harvard Allston Land Co., which Tom Glynn led before stepping down about a year ago.
After the press conference, Lapp issued a statement saying Harvard shares a vision for the I-90 project with the state, city, and community that will “advance mobility, connectivity and regional economic growth while also addressing civic and community needs across Allston-Brighton.” She said the project is a strong candidate for federal grant funding in part because it will “transform obsolete transportation infrastructure on a brownfield site into an inclusive and vibrant mixed-use neighborhood anchored by a truly multimodal West Station.”
Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.