The state’s plans for replacing the crumbling Massachusetts Turnpike viaduct and interchange in Allston are coming into focus, and it’s a mixed picture for the neighborhood. There’s plenty more studying and analyzing to do before construction begins, but it’s already clear that the state will need some prodding from elected officials to make good on the project’s transformative potential. The state could help reconnect Allston with the rest of the city and smooth transit in the area — or it could miss a historic opportunity.
Some aspects of the new proposals, presented to the Allston community at a meeting last week, mark definite improvements. In particular, MassDOT now envisions new parkland along the Charles River, a patch of open space dubbed the Allston Esplanade. The state has also incorporated some recommendations from the Boston Planning and Development Agency (the former BRA) and adjusted some of the street configurations. The project, which involves straightening the Pike and freeing up land for development, should create a whole new neighborhood out of what is now a spaghetti bowl of highway ramps and unused railroad tracks. The BPDA’s placemaking recommendations were aimed at ensuring that the new neighborhood would be a vibrant, mixed-use area, and MassDOT listened.
Missing, though, was a firm commitment to construct a commuter rail station at the southern edge of the parcel, where it would serve both the Boston University campus and the newly created neighborhood. Officials also cast doubt on community hopes that the project would result in improvements to bus service in Allston. The unreliable 66 bus, the main MBTA route connecting Allston with the rest of the city, follows a slow and circuitous course across the Pike. A direct north-south connection from Allston, over the Pike and toward the Longwood Medical Area, would speed transportation for nurses or researchers who live in Allston and work at Longwood; it would also make the new neighborhood a more attractive place to live. Cycling advocates are hoping for a “People’s Pike,” a dedicated bikeway that would connect to the trails along the river.
The state, understandably, is growing impatient. In an interview with the Globe editorial board on Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said she regularly gets warnings about the state of the existing viaduct, whose deteriorating condition was the whole reason for the project in the first place. Considering the importance of the Pike to the state’s overall economic health, it’s no wonder that officials want to move the planning process along. The state still needs to analyze three options for the area near where the Pike passes underneath Commonwealth Avenue, where the Pike, Soldier’s Field Road, and two rail lines all squeeze through a narrow throat of land.
But decisions over the next few years will shape Allston for decades, and MassDOT needs to get this right. The agency is moving in the right direction in its Allston plans, but it won’t be done until the needed transit improvements are included in the plan — and funded.