Harvard increases support for West Station

Harvard increases support for West Station

Offers $8m for interim approach, $50m for complete facility

HARVARD UNIVERSITY put some additional financial muscle behind efforts to begin construction of a new transit station in the Allston-Brighton area earlier, offering the state $50 million toward a full multi-modal facility and as much as $8 million for a commuter rail stop on the Worcester Line that would serve as an interim solution.

State officials are currently taking comment on a plan to realign the Massachusetts Turnpike in the area and rebuild an elevated section of that roadway that is rapidly deteriorating. That plan puts off the construction of the transit station, dubbed West Station, until 2040, when more will be known about Harvard’s plans to build out an entire new neighborhood of research, corporate, and residential buildings in the area.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, Harvard offered $8 million for what it called an early action interim West Station, basically a simple commuter rail stop on the Worcester Line between the Yawkey Way and Boston Landing stations.

The university also offered up to $50 million for a full, multi-modal facility offering bus, commuter rail, and possibly urban rail service at the station. Harvard had earlier pledged to provide a third of the cost of a facility costing roughly $90 million; now it is upping that pledge by $20 million.

“This project represents a generational opportunity not only to repair and replace the compromised viaduct [the elevated portion of the Mass Pike], but also to modernize neighborhood circulation, address long-standing traffic impacts, and introduce new mass transit infrastructure in service of the neighborhood, the city of Boston, and the Commonwealth,” said Katherine Lapp, Harvard’s executive vice president, in a letter to Pollack.

Pollack’s office issued a rather brusque statement in response. “MassDOT is grateful for the partnership it has with Harvard and appreciates Harvard’s offer of $50 million toward funding the full build regional West Station,” the statement said. “As Harvard recognizes, the decision as to when service should be introduced at an interim or full multi-modal West Station and at what levels, are determinations that would need to be made by MassDOT after an assessment of projected regional development, ridership demand, and impacts to existing service.”

The state is currently taking comment on its proposal until February 9.

Jim Aloisi, a former state transportation secretary and a board member of the group TransitMatters, called the Harvard offer great news. He said he believes the total cost of West Station could be easily reduced, which would make the Harvard contribution even more significant.

“It means that there should be no financial barriers to getting the early build on West Station I have been calling for,” he said.  “MassDOT needs to revisit its assumptions.”

Aloisi has advocated strongly for building West Station earlier rather than later. He said he favors an at-grade approach to the Mass Pike realignment which, along with an early build of West Station, would create a more affordable and sustainable project. “Getting West Station in early opens up prospects for connections to North Station via Grand Junction,” he said, referring to a little used rail line running north and then east.  “It also puts pressure on BU to step-up and do something meaningful.”

Boston University earlier agreed to put up a third of the cost of West Station when the price tag was about $25 million. BU officials say they are still willing to financially support the project, but they haven’t announced a specific amount.

BU has also embraced a proposal to utilize Malvern Street during the early part of the project to connect the area around BU to the Allston-Brighton area, a connection that has been forestalled for years by the barrier of the Mass Pike. Lapp urged Pollack to embrace that idea.

Harvard has ambitious plans for the now-vacant land it has acquired stretching from Western Avenue at the southern edge of its campus in Boston all the way to Boston University. Lapp noted in her letter to Pollack that the university has invested more than $400 million in creating a vacant rail yard that is allowing the state’s roadway projects to proceed.

Lapp also acknowledged that the timing for construction of West Station is complicated by the fact that no development plans have been put forward publicly for much of the area. Officials have even said the best location for the transit station may not be known for some time. That’s why Harvard made the interim station proposal, as a way of giving state officials more options.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

In her letter, Lapp also raised concerns about the state’s plans to double layover facilities for commuter rail trains that need to park somewhere between morning and evening peak runs. In the state’s plan, layover space would be located in the vicinity of where West Station is proposed and could delay construction of a full West Station, Lapp said.  She urged doing away with some of the layover space so construction of the station could proceed more smoothly.

She also suggested the state may want to move the location of the station to the north of the rail yard to allow easier transit connections in the area.