Baker faces same choice Sargent did in 1972

Don’t elevate a highway above an urban community

IN 1972, Republican Gov. Francis W. Sargent confronted the question of whether to perpetuate a decades-old plan to run the I-95 highway through Boston neighborhoods, or to adopt a forward-looking, community-inspired plan that swept away outdated ideas. It took courage for the governor to abandon the obsolete notion of building an elevated interstate through Roxbury and Jamaica Plain and instead to invest in environmentally sensitive infrastructure that would encourage economic development along the Southwest Corridor.

Sargent and his secretary of transportation, Alan Altshuler, found a way to pay for that plan and rebuild failing roads and rail facilities in those neighborhoods with federal and state public funds.

Today’s pending reconstruction of I-90 now looming over Boston’s Allston neighborhood presents an uncanny opportunity to do the same good. Our governor faces the equivalent question of whether to perpetuate a decades-old idea – a highway viaduct built above an urban community – or to seize, as Sargent did, the exciting alternative put forward by private citizens. The Allston project would open the door to a similar 50-year economic development plan and new parkland, forever reclaiming a critical part of Boston for the benefit of the region.

In both cases, major universities benefit from a new public-oriented plan, and so they should – along with every other citizen of Boston. Northeastern University in the Southwest Corridor in the 1970s, and Harvard and Boston University today in Allston, have long served their different communities as cornerstone educational institutions. They have expended their own funds to reclaim fallow, post-industrial lands and hold them for more productive public-oriented purposes.

Harvard’s cost in acquiring railroad freight yards and related industrial rights in Allston was substantial and will be increased by its $58 million commitment to help the Commonwealth pay for the new West Station. To expect Harvard to also bear the cost of rebuilding I-90 or more of the passenger railroad that serves the public at-large is to overstate the obligations of any private university and to ask it to do the work of a public agency.

At the beginning of 2021, as our new president proposes major investment in national infrastructure, it is unthinkable that the Commonwealth would repeat highway design mistakes made in the 1960s, or even suggest rebuilding an elevated highway adjacent to the Charles River and above one of the last major undeveloped parcels in Boston.

Meet the Author

Anthony Pangaro

Retired , Millennium Partners Boston
Meet the Author

Kenneth Kruckemeyer

Partner, Strategies for Cities
Belief in a common public good was at the heart of Sargent’s transformative decision. The Commonwealth’s responsibility for that good should not be disregarded by calling it the obligation of a university land owner. The history of the Southwest Corridor Project surely shows that the creation of public good is the duty of government.

Anthony Pangaro, who retired as head of Millennium Partners-Boston, was the director of the Southwest Corridor Project from 1973 to 1980.  Kenneth Kruckemeyer is a partner at Strategies for Cities and was assistant director/director of the Southwest Corridor Project from 1973 to 1982.