Massachusetts Department of Transportation
It will be cars first, trains later, in the massive upcoming project to rebuild the Massachusetts Turnpike through Allston.
State transportation officials are delaying a new train and bus station in the former rail yards in Allston until 2040. The highway portion of the $1-billion-plus project, meanwhile, is scheduled to begin within a few years and be completed by 2025.
State officials said there is a major practical consideration to the delay: The former rail yard where the so-called West train station will go is owned by Harvard University, which has not finalized plans and is years from finishing its construction there.
“Before new jobs and new residents arrive in the immediate vicinity of a future station, travel demand for the proposed West Station is unknown,” said state transportation spokesman Patrick Marvin.
State officials have still not lined up funding for the entire project; meantime, the cost of the transit station has ballooned, to $95 million, as it grew in ambition from a modest commuter rail stop to one that serves multiple lines and has a bus concourse built in.
First proposed in the waning days of former Governor Deval Patrick’s administration, West Station was pitched as the linchpin to a much expanded rail network linked to both South and North stations, and also extending train service to Kendall Square.
While Patrick had envisioned the train station would be built in conjunction with the highway project, the Baker administration had previously said the station construction would come later on. They now have put a timeline on it: 2040, according to a planning document released Thursday.
The disclosure upset some of the community advocates who have been working on a state-run task force planning the Allston project. At a public meeting Thursday, several complained it would be difficult to support new development at that western edge of Boston without transit.
Ari Ofsevit, a transit advocate and member of the task force, said the state should at least install a bare-bones station in Allston with service to South Station in the short term, to provide at least some transit access to the site.
“If we do transit first, we stand a chance of a transit-oriented development. If we do it last, we’ll have another Seaport,” Ofsevit said, referring to the waterfront neighborhood where rapid development has outpaced transportation options. “We have a history in Boston of promising transit improvements and never putting them into place.”
Marvin noted that Allston is already served by a commuter rail stop, at the New Balance-owned Boston Landing development. And state Senator William Brownsberger, who attended the Thursday meeting, said the level of service envisioned for the new station would take years to plan out anyway.
The highway project would straighten the turnpike where it now makes a wide sweeping curve between the Boston University campus and the Charles River, and build a new road network on the cleared land. That work would open up dozens of acres for new development and open space.
Initially, Harvard had committed to funding a third of the West Station cost, and Boston University was considering a similar commitment. Now, with the price of the station more than tripling in a few short years, a spokesman for BU, Colin Riley, said the school now believes the higher price tag “makes it an entirely new conversation.”
Brigid O’Rourke, a spokeswoman for Harvard, said only that the station “has always been an important priority for Harvard,” and that the school looks forward to future discussions about its timing.
Still, much is up in the air. The state in November warned that despite all this planning, the ultimate project may simply rebuild the turnpike in its current configuration if it cannot find money for the more ambitious straightening of the highway. Officials have already begun calling on the private sector, including Harvard, to pitch in more.
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