Boston, Harvard, BU pledge $300m for I-90 Allston project
State officials hail size of third-party funding
THE CITY OF BOSTON, Harvard, and Boston University are pledging $300 million toward the development of the $1.9 billion I-90 Allston multimodal project, which would pave the way for development of a major new neighborhood and a new MBTA station called West Station on land owned largely by Harvard.
Highway Commissioner Jonathan Gulliver, at a virtual briefing for stakeholders, described the $300 million as the largest amount of third-party funding a state transportation project has ever received. The funding pledge is contained in an application the state filed on Monday for $200 million in so-called Mega federal grant funding.
Chris Osgood, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s senior advisor for infrastructure, said the city has pledged $100 million in direct funding for the project and agreed to provide another $100 million through a “value capture” initiative in participation with Harvard. Osgood said the city’s direct investment of $100 million would cover the cost of the street network in the new neighborhood. Value capture attempts to recapture some of the cost of public infrastructure from private sector beneficiaries, in this case Harvard.
Harvard released an August 21 letter written by Meredith Weenick, the school’s executive vice president, to US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, in support of the overall project and outlining Harvard’s role.
development district established by the city.”
“While neither the city of Boston nor Harvard University can guarantee the sufficiency of such value capture mechanisms to service the $100 million, it is our mutual expectation that such value capture can be realized presuming the Allston Multimodal Project advances on the current schedule identified in the Commonwealth’s 2023 Mega grant application.”
Under the new funding agreement, Harvard said it is upping its funding for West Station from $58 million to $90 million. Boston University said it is boosting its funding commitment to the project from $8.5 million to $10 million.
The financing plan contained in the grant application spells out in much greater detail than ever before where state officials expect the money for the project will come from. In addition to the $300 million in funding from Boston, Harvard, and BU, a total of $500 million in federal funds is being pursued — $200 million from the grant application filed on Monday and $300 million from a separate grant program launching next month designed to knit communities disrupted by past infrastructure projects back together. State officials say that grant program would seem a perfect fit to remedy the harm caused when the Turnpike was built. The project would reintegrate the Allston-Brighton neighborhoods, currently divided by the Turnpike and a broken-down railyard.
State officials say they are prepared to invest more than $1 billion in the project, which is currently scheduled to begin construction in 2027. The state money will come from unspecified bonds and loans ($470 million), Turnpike toll funds ($200 million), and millionaire tax revenues ($450 million). Use of the millionaire tax funds would have to be approved by the Legislature.
The grant application is far different from the unsuccessful application the state filed last year. That grant request was for , $1.2 billion and its he finance plan was vague and somewhat speculative. Quentin Palfrey, the governor’s director of federal funds and infrastructure, said between last year and this year state officials worked closely with Biden administration officials to craft grant applications that have the best chance of winning approval.
While Gov. Maura Healey has focused a lot of her attention lately on obtaining federal funding for replacement of the Cape Cod bridges, Palfrey said the governor considers the I-90 Allston project a very high priority. “Bringing about this project could have transformational possibilities,” he said.
The project would eliminate an elevated section of the Massachusetts Turnpike running by BU, straighten the roadway, and make way for the new neighborhood being developed by Harvard. Several state officials on Wednesday likened the project’s size and potential to what happened in the seaport area of Boston.
In her letter to Buttigieg, Weenick said Harvard has already invested $500 million in “enabling costs” on the overall project by relocating the former railyard and performing environmental mediation on the property. She also noted Harvard has donated three acres of land to help relocate Soldier’s Field Road and two acres to form a buffer park between existing neighborhoods and the proposed new commuter rail infrastructure.“Harvard and MassDOT also executed a joint Letter of Intent in 2014 addressing future development rights, including air rights, that will allow the Project to redress a century-long divide across Allston-Brighton neighborhoods due to existing highway and rail infrastructure,” she wrote.
“While the project site is located within the city of Boston and would bring unprecedented and much needed transit, connectivity, and livability improvements to Allston-Brighton and local residents, its orientation as the Western gateway to and from Boston, including a new multimodal transit hub created by West Station, will make this project truly regional in its reach and benefits,” Weenick added.