The debate over a new transit station in Allston by the Massachusetts Turnpike doesn’t seem much closer to resolution.
State officials last year angered neighborhood and transit activists when they said the proposed West Station would probably not open until around 2040, after the government finishes up the related project of straightening I-90 through Allston. Advocates have argued that the state should open at least a small-scale commuter station much sooner, in the mid-2020s.
This week, they lined up at a public meeting to again press their case — but apparently to little effect. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said afterward she remains unconvinced the station is needed so soon.
Pollack said the dozens of acres of Harvard University land surrounding the site — widely considered one of Boston’s next big urban development areas — will not have many new buildings on them by the mid-2020s, which would undercut any demand for the train service.
“I want to do West Station when it makes sense to do West Station,” Pollack said. “For me, it’s not about arbitrary years. It’s about when the development happens that generates what we need to serve.”
Neighbors, though, say the station would immediately improve traffic on the Pike and in that part of Boston. Moreover, they say, the station would serve all the other development underway around Allston and Brighton.
“Secretary Pollack can come to the Mass. Pike exit in Allston any day during rush hour to learn how urgently West Station is needed,” Allston resident Harry Mattison said.
Harvard has committed $8 million to build a no-frills West Station by 2025, as well as another $50 million to build a larger version later. Boston University has also committed to funding the station, though it has not named a price, and said it should open sooner than 2040. Another leader in Governor Charlie Baker’s administration, energy and environmental affairs Secretary Matt Beaton, has shown his support for a quicker opening. Companies including Microsoft, and elected officials from Allston, are also pressing for the station to open sooner.
Supporters envision a major transit hub that goes beyond a simple stop on the Worcester commuter rail line: Separate tracks there could provide rail service to Kendall Square, and a bus station could host new service between Cambridge and the Longwood Medical area, for example.
But, Pollack rejoined, because none of that new service is currently planned, there’s less need for the station in the short term.
MBTA deputy general manager Jeff Gonneville pointed out there are two commuter stations within a mile and a half of that location, including the recently opened Boston Landing stop. He said officials are planning studies and surveys to determine Allston’s long-term transit needs.
Gonneville and Pollack have also argued the T needs the rail space near the proposed West Station for midday and overnight train layovers. But Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the T’s board of directors, asked whether that would be necessary long term if the agency opts to eventually run more frequent commuter service, an idea the agency is studying.