The Codcast: Salvucci, Aloisi liken Pollack to Sargent
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack is being likened by two of her predecessors to former governor Frank Sargent for her decision to replace the elevated section of the Massachusetts Turnpike between Boston University and Allston with an at-grade version. Sargent 50 years ago called a halt to the proposed inner belt highway that would have continued the state’s auto-centric approach to transportation and carved up many of Boston’s neighborhoods.
On the Codcast hosted by TransitMatters members Jim Aloisi and Josh Fairchild, former state transportation secretaries Fred Salvucci and Aloisi praised Pollack for deciding not to follow conventional wisdom and rebuild the elevated section of the Turnpike as is, which would have maintained the Pike as a de facto wall separating one part of Boston from another.
“The Allston neighborhood had already been destroyed by the Turnpike,” said Salvucci, who grew up in Brighton. “This is a chance for the first time in more than a half century to fix the huge mistake, the blunder, that was made at that time.”
Salvucci said Pollack took the key initial step, deciding the state would not repeat its earlier mistake. But Salvucci said Pollack must now follow Sargent’s lead and invest in public transportation options. Where Sargent used the money he saved by not building the inner belt to extend the Red Line to Alewife, to relocate the Orange Line, and to revamp the commuter rail system, Salvucci and Aloisi said Pollack now has to build support for measures that will get people out of their cars and into alternative types of transportation.
“This is perhaps the most significant regional mobility opportunity to face us in a long, long time,” Aloisi said.
Harry Mattison, an Allston resident who has played an influential role in the long-running discussions about Turnpike reconstruction, said his community is a choke point for some 200,000 people a day coming into the city from the west or trying to go north-south between Dudley and Longwood and Harvard Square.
“The status quo is already horrible,” said Mattison, “and it’s getting worse and worse. In a couple years, when this construction starts, it’s going to go through the roof.”
Salvucci said state officials need to do the same kind of public outreach they did in the early stages of the Big Dig. Out of those meetings came ideas for the Hingham-to-Boston ferry and park-and-ride lots on the South Shore, Salvucci said. “A lot of those ideas built new habits,” Salvucci said. “We need to begin that now [for Allston].”
The transit advocates say the key to building new habits is the proposed West Station, which would serve as a commuter rail stop on the Worcester Line, a possible rail link to Kendall Square and North Station, and a bus link to points south (Boston University) and north (Harvard Square and beyond). They all said commuter rail service should operate all day long on the Worcester Line and not just during the morning and evening peak.
Pollack originally said she thought West Station could wait until 2040 when Harvard University’s development plans in the area (the school owns most of the land) are better known. But when she announced her decision on a design for the elevated section of the Turnpike, she indicated she was open to moving the timetable up.
Salvucci, who teaches at MIT, said the university gathers extensive information on the travel habits of its employees. He said the data indicate people from Acton (close to 20 miles away) are far more likely to ride public transportation to work than residents of nearby Newton. From Acton, MIT employees can ride the Fitchburg commuter rail line to Porter Square and from there take the Red Line to MIT. There is no similar connecting point for Newton residents, so more of them drive.
“West Station effectively is the Porter Square of the network. It allows people to get off of one vehicle and make other public transportation choices, some of them by bus and some of them by rail,” Salvucci said. “People make these decisions individually one at a time. You’ve got to start giving them options now. It already is terrible enough, but it is going to get worse. So you’ve got to start giving them options now to create those possibilities for the future.”
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