The Codcast: The case for West Station now

The fight over the proposed West Station in Allston is shaping up as an epic transportation struggle. Harvard University is planning to build a new neighborhood in Allston and the question facing state officials is whether the area needs a commuter rail and bus transit station now or whether the station can wait until much more of the development is completed in 2040.

State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack last week defended a preliminary environmental impact report that put construction of the station off until 2040. She said the station, even in 2040, would attract only 250 commuter rail riders a day. She also said the station would cost between $89 and $96 million, and disrupt plans to use the location initially as layover space for commuter rail trains.

In this week’s Codcast, the folks from TransitMatters (Josh Fairchild and James Aloisi) sit down with Jessica Robertson and Ari Ofsevit, two members of the Allston Interchange Task Force (Ofsevit is also a TransiMatters member) to hash out the West Station issue. All of them believe the station needs to be built at the beginning of the development process, so don’t expect a point-counterpoint type of debate. What their discussion reveals, however, is how the debate over West Station has become a debate about the future of the T and commuter rail.

State officials envision West Station as a neighborhood-oriented facility serving commuter rail riders within a quarter mile. The proponents of building the station sooner see West Station drawing riders from much farther way, particularly if it can connect the area around Boston University with Harvard and connect the entire area to the Longwood Medical Area, Kendall Square, and other points to the north. In short, the proponents of building the station sooner see West Station as an integral part of a regional rail system where commuter rail trains operate more like subways.

“This is potentially a game changer,” said Robertson, who lives in Allston.

State officials, by contrast, are focused more on the here and now. They are planning to straighten out the Massachusetts Turnpike in the Allston-Brighton area and rebuild an elevated section of the Pike near BU. To them, West Station can wait, particularly since they are just beginning a study of what commuter rail should look like in 20 to 40 years.

Boston Globe columnist Dante Ramos over the weekend took the same position as the TransitMatters folks. He said West Station is deja vu all over again, recalling how the Seaport District was developed without enough bus or rail service and now finds itself mired in traffic and pollution. “The same thing is about to happen again in Allston, except maybe worse,” he said.

Ofsevit, Robertson, and Aloisi all dismissed the state’s estimate of a paltry 250 commuter rail riders a day at West Station in 2040. Ofsevit, who lives in Cambridge, said Boston Landing, a commuter rail station in the midst of 1.4 million square feet of development, is currently attracting 500 riders a day. He said Harvard’s new neighborhood, with 7 million square feet of development, should attract a lot more riders, as many as 2,500 a day, which would make West Station bigger than any other commuter rail station except South, North, and Back Bay Stations.

The debate over layover space is another discussion about the future. State officials say they desperately need layover space for commuter rail trains that make their way into Boston during the morning and then need somewhere to park until the evening commute begins. The plan is to use the location of West Station as layover space until 2040 when it’s time to build the station.

Ofsevit, by contrast, dismisses the push for layover space, arguing the T should be running the trains during midday rather than letting them sit idle. (State officials probably would have concerns about running near-empty trains during the midday.)

West Station was originally expected to cost $25 million, and Harvard and BU promised to chip in about $16 million. Now state officials say the cost estimate has risen to more than $90 million. Robertson said the higher cost is being driven by plans to build a deck above the commuter rail train tracks where buses could turn around and lay over.  She said if the station was built more as a pass-through point for buses crossing from Allston over to BU the buses wouldn’t need to turn around or lay over, and the cost could be cut to between $15 and $25 million. (Robertson said BU, which originally resisted the idea of the station as a pass-through point to its campus, has indicated a willingness to consider the idea.)

Aloisi said state transportation officials, who are more focused on realigning the Turnpike and fixing the deteriorating elevated section of the Pike near BU, don’t want to build West Station early in the development process and as a result are putting up all sorts of financial and statistical roadblocks in the way.

“The reality of our recent experience in Greater Boston is you build the transit early in order to establish the zone as transit-oriented and then private investment will come and work around that,” he said. “That’s exactly what’s not happening in Allston.”

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

Should you need a government-issued photo ID to enter the McCormack state office building on Beacon HIll, where hearings are held by many state agencies? (Boston Globe)

Billionaire philanthropist Amos Hostetter, in a letter to the Globe that had not been posted online as of this morning, takes issue with an article suggesting it was “wrong, or at least unseemly, for anyone to engage in any way with a state official or to support a position on a ballot initiative that happens to coincide with the governor’s while he or she has an interest, however unrelated, in a matter pending before a state agency.”

Rep. James Arciero of Westford is the lawmaker who missed the most roll calls in 2017. (Lowell Sun)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Mayor Marty Walsh quietly signed a new Boston ordinance banning plastic shopping bags on Friday, but didn’t reveal the news until Sunday. (Boston Globe)

City Hall salaries, including Walsh’s, could soar under the recommendations of an advisory committee appointed by the mayor and helmed by former city councilor. (Boston Herald) As Joe Battenfeld, the committee chairman, John Tobin, now works as a vice president for city and community affairs at Northeastern University, a position that depends on maintaining good relations with city officials. (Boston Herald)

First-term Sandwich Selectman Peter Beauchemin died over the weekend from bone cancer. He was 76. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL/SPACE

James Pindell says Maine Sen. Susan Collins will become an even more pivotal player in the Senate with the narrowing of the Republican advantage from last week’s election of Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama. (Boston Globe)

Four senators reportedly urge Al Franken to reconsider his resignation. (Politico)

Blue Hills High School graduate Scott Tingle blasted off from Russia Sunday as part of a three-member crew bound for the International Space Station for a four-month stay. (Patriot Ledger)

ELECTIONS

Secretary of State Bill Galvin calls his announced 2018 Democratic primary challenger Josh Zakim “sneaky” for announcing his bid only weeks after winning reelection last month to his district Boston city council seat. (Boston Herald)

Jessica Heslam calls Beth Lindstrom, who is seeking the Republican nomination for US Senate  “mild-mannered and likable.” (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Pawtucket Red Sox Chairman Larry Lucchino met with Worcester officials for about three hours on Friday as the team looks for a new home. (Telegram & Gazette)

A Globe editorial says it would be neither fair to other New England fishermen nor the best thing for the long-term health of New England’s fishing stock for a break-up of the fishing empire controlled by the “Codfather,” Carlos Rafael, to keep permits in New Bedford that were concentrated there through his ilegal schemes — even though state leaders from the city’s mayor to Gov. Charlie Baker and Sen. Elizabeth Warren are making that home state argument.

A Hulu series called Castle Rock is bringing a lot of business to New England Studios at Devens. (Lowell Sun)

While President Trump declares the tax cut package a “big, beautiful Christmas present,” nonprofits say it amounts to a lump of coal for them with the doubling of the standard deduction which eliminates itemizing for most Americans. (MetroWest Daily News) The bill does, however, maintain the 63-year-old ban on politicking by nonprofits. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

EDUCATION

Keri Rodrigues says standardized tests are not punishment — they are a matter of social justice. (CommonWealth)

A Herald editorial urges the Boston School Committee to hold its ground on revamped school starting times in the face of strong blowback from parents. But the school committee already seems to be in retreat, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh tells angry parents that start times for elementary school students had to be moved up so start times for high school students could be moved to later. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A group calling itself the Make Healthcare Affordable Coalition comes out against the merger of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Lahey Health, saying the consolidation would raise costs and hurt communities of color. (Eagle-Tribune)

TRANSPORTATION

A power outage at the nation’s busiest airport in Atlanta disrupted air traffic around the country with 1,150 canceled flights, including several dozen out of Logan Airport. (New York Times)

The MBTA will terminate its contract with a North Carolina company overseeing The Ride service for passengers with disabilities in the face of persistent complaints about poor service. (Boston Globe) The parting of the ways was first reported by CommonWealth in late November, but at that juncture T management insisted nothing had changed.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A hillside in the Centralville section of Lowell has become a mecca for trash dumpers. (Lowell Sun)

An opponent of Falmouth’s wind turbines has filed a complaint with the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals because one of the the turbines has been shut down since 2015 and should be dismantled under a bylaw governing abandoned machinery. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Globe reporter Maria Cramer tells the heart-wrenching tale of Natalino Gomes, killed earlier this month while at his job stocking shelves at a Bowdoin Street convenience store in Dorchester, who shared his hopes and fears with a team of the paper’s reporters during their in-depth 2012 series on life in the troubled Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood.

Berkshire entrepreneur Patrick Muraca is charged with wire fraud and lying to federal investigators. (Berkshire Eagle)

A Fall River man was sentenced to 8 to 10 years in prison after being convicted of causing his elderly mother’s death through neglect. (Herald News)

A Fairhaven woman says she will continue to seek justice for her 22-year-old son’s overdose death in April on Martha’s Vineyard after the Cape and Islands District Attorney declined to press manslaughter charges against the man she charged sold her son the drugs. (Cape Cod Times)

MEDIA

The Boston Herald reports that three unidentified suitors are interested in buying the paper.

Robert Wilmer, the chairman and CEO of M&T Bank Corp. and a co-owner of New England Newspapers Inc., the publisher of the Berkshire Eagle, passed away over the weekend. (Berkshire Eagle)

WGBH has identified former Globe State House political reporter Jim O’Sullivan as the person forced to resign from the paper over sexual misconduct charges,, which has triggered a firestorm over the Globe’s decision to not name its own employee while freely identifying others accused of sexual harassment incidents in government and business.