No sign of consensus on West Station
Transit advocates want facility asap; Pollack not convinced
DESPITE GROWING PRESSURE from transit advocates, state transportation officials aren’t budging on their view that a new transit station isn’t needed until 2040 to serve an emerging mixed-use neighborhood being developed by Harvard University in Allston.
At a joint meeting of the two boards overseeing the MBTA and the Department of Transportation on Monday, transit advocates renewed their call for a new West Station early on in the development process. “West Station is absolutely critical to relieving all of the congestion on the Turnpike,” said Fred Salvucci, a former state transportation secretary who now teaches at MIT.
Richard Dimino, the president and CEO of A Better City, a business-backed group with a strong interest in transportation, pushed for an interim West Station early on in the development process followed by a fully built-out facility. (Harvard has taken that position as well, offering $8 million for an interim commuter rail stop and $50 million for the complete facility.)
West Station is actually one element of a state plan to straighten the Massachusetts Turnpike near the former Allston tolls and replace a badly deteriorating elevated section of the Pike near Boston University. In its draft environmental impact report on the project, the Baker administration said West Station wouldn’t be needed until 2040 because the station would attract few riders until then and would undermine efforts to provide midday layover space for commuter rail trains between the morning and evening travel peaks.
But Jeffrey Gonneville, the deputy general manager of the T, gave an update on West Station that largely ignored the timing of its construction. He focused on the need for layover space for commuter rail trains. He said stopping at West Station would add another 3 minutes to rides on the Worcester Line that currently take between an hour and six minutes to an hour and 31 minutes depending on the train. He also stressed how close West Station is to the nearby stops of Boston Landing (.8 miles) and Yawkey Station (1.3 miles).
Joseph Sullivan, a member of the MassDOT board and the mayor of Braintree, finally asked Gonneville point-blank if he was still going with a 2040 launch for the station. After looking at Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, Gonneville said that was the plan.
After the meeting, Pollack reiterated her view that demand for commuter rail service is minimal at West Station and the facility won’t be needed until the Harvard development moves into higher gear.
“I want to do West Station when it makes sense to do West Station,” she said. “Two things that really affect the timing of the station are the need for the layover space and then the services that would be provided at that station – when it makes sense for them to begin. To me it’s not actually about a year at all. It’s about demand. The draft environmental impact report (EIR) modeled 7 million square feet of new development at Harvard. As of now, none of that is built. None of that has been applied for, and neither the city of Boston nor Harvard has provided any date by which it would exist. For me it’s not about arbitrary years. It’s about when the development happens that generates what we need to serve by providing additional bus and train service. We need to understand enough about the kinds of services that we might want to provide in the future to get the design right – that we leave enough space, that we have enough platforms, that we have enough bus bays. At that point, you can have a separate process to talk about when you pull the trigger and build that station.”Asked about Salvucci’s comment that West Station is needed to alleviate congestion on the Turnpike, Pollack said: “We did a traffic study. It was presented in the draft EIR. It did not support that conclusion, which is why we did not propose the station as a mitigation measure for the viaduct. The station is not mitigating the impacts caused by the road. It’s simply providing additional transit service to Allston.”
Gonneville said the T is still trying to figure out what kind of transportation service is needed in Allston and how big the demand is. In that vein, he said, the T plans to survey riders at the Boston Landing station to gain insights into the “need/demand for a West Station,” according to his presentation. He said the T is also launching a six-month study in May to examine transit challenges in Allston and an 18-month study in June to develop a transportation vision for the emerging neighborhood.