State: No West Station until 2040

State: No West Station until 2040

Advocates say 20 years is too long to wait

A STATE TRANSPORTATION FILING prompted a chicken-and-egg debate on Friday about whether a new transit station should be constructed in conjunction with the new neighborhood Harvard University is building in Allston or whether the station can wait until 2040.

In a mammoth filing with state environmental officials on the complex and sprawling project, the Department of Transportation said it first intends to realign the Massachusetts Turnpike and rebuild a deteriorating, elevated stretch of the Pike adjacent to Boston University before moving on to construct what has come to be known as West Station.

The filing said state transportation officials forecast little demand for commuter rail services in the area until Harvard completes the buildout of the new neighborhood. In the meantime, the state plans to store commuter rail trains overnight on four existing tracks in the area starting in 2025. After 2025 and sometime before 2040, the environmental filing said, the state plans to add four more layover tracks to the north of the existing tracks. In 2040, the officials said, they plan to remove the original tracks “to allow for the construction of West Station” in their place.

The state’s decision on West Station set off a spirited discussion, mostly on social media, about whether it’s best to build out a neighborhood and then add a transportation component or whether the two have to go hand in hand.

Jim Aloisi, a member of the board of TransitMatters and a former state secretary of transportation, said transit-oriented development doesn’t happen without transit. He said waiting 20 years before addressing the emerging neighborhood’s transportation needs is senseless.

“It’s completely wrongheaded,” he said. “This site should be built around transit.”

Patrick Marvin, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation, issued a statement explaining the agency’s thinking. “Before new jobs and new residents arrive in the immediate vicinity of a future station, travel demand for the proposed West Station is unknown.  Data collected for the DEIR [Draft Environmental Impact Report] indicate that the station is not needed to mitigate the traffic impacts of the Interchange Improvement Project [the realignment of the Pike and replacement of the deteriorating section of the road].  The Allston neighborhood is today served by a new MBTA commuter rail station at Boston Landing and MBTA bus routes 64, 66, and 86.”

Harvard, which has offered to provide some of the funding for West Station, declined to weigh in on the debate. “Certainly MassDOT needs to consider demand as they assess timing for West Station,” said a statement issued by a Harvard spokeswoman. “West Station has always been an important priority for Harvard. We look forward to continuing discussions through the comment period and beyond about implementation and timing.”

Harvard likes to think of its emerging Allston neighborhood in two parts – Allston North, just south of Harvard Business School and between Western Avenue and Cambridge Street, and Allston South, the area extending from Cambridge Street south to where the relocated Turnpike will be located near Boston University.

Harvard on Wednesday night rolled out to neighborhood residents what was essentially a vision statement for the 36-acre Allston North, with a few extra specifics on 14 acres within that area. Harvard is tentatively planning a hotel and conference center, a residential apartment complex, and two lab/office buildings on the property.

Harvard has said little so far about its plans for Allston South, but the state is eager to get moving on the transportation components in that area, in part because of concerns about the elevated section of the Turnpike. The state is spending $800,000 a year just shoring up the elevated section. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack wants to begin replacing that section in 2020 and complete the work by 2024 or 2025, otherwise weight restrictions may be necessary for vehicles traveling on the road.

In its environmental filing, the Transportation Department described West Station as “a local, neighborhood-oriented station serving customers (riders) who reside within a reasonable walking distance from the station location. These residents will be expected to use the new station for travel to Back Bay (to work or shop), South Station (Financial District, South Boston Innovation District), Logan Airport (via Silver Line connection), or Yawkey (Fenway events).”

The proposed West Station commuter rail stop, which will also be a bus terminal, would be located between Yawkey and Boston Landing.

Officials say the 2040 target date for West Station construction is far from final. Public input on the project will go on for some time and a lot of variables remain up in the air. Some officials suggest a compromise on West Station is possible, with one option being the installation of a simple, temporary  commuter rail platform at the site until construction of the entire station is completed.

Meet the Author

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.

The exact location of the station may also need to change slightly as Harvard fleshes out its plans for Allston South and hires developers who may be interested in the air rights above the proposed station.

Maps included in the state’s environmental filing indicate a strong emphasis on providing bicycle and pedestrian pathways over the Turnpike and train tracks near West Station that would allow people to move back and forth between neighborhoods that have long been cut off from each other.

  • Harry Mattison

    The “spirited discussion” about transit was not “mostly on social media”. It dominated the MassDOT I-90 Task Force meeting on Thursday night (after MassDOT finished reading the DEIR’s table of contents to us)

  • Harry Mattison

    MassDOT says “travel demand for the proposed West Station is unknown”. That’s funny! In 2009 the State’s Executive Office of Transportation was able to estimate the travel demand for a proposed West Station.
    See page 22 of the Allston Multimodal Station Study http://studylib.net/doc/13042267/executive-office-of-transportation-allston-multimodal-sta…#

  • Harry Mattison

    Only the current MassDOT team views West Station as “a local, neighborhood-oriented station serving customers (riders) who reside within a reasonable walking distance from the station location.”
    Many others, including the Boston Planning and Development Agency and past MassDOT Secretaries (Davey, Aloisi, Salvucci) view West Station as a multi-modal hub connecting the western suburbs with Kendall, NorthPoint, North Station, and downtown using a modern urban rail system.

  • Newtonmarunner

    Doing the highway first is inane. As Harry Mattison points out, West Station also serves as a transfer point for those who live on the 57 bus and the overcrowded Green B, and work in Copley and by South Station. The West Station stop also serves as an express subway line (with absolute rights of way on the busiest part of Comm. Ave.) stop to South Station relieving the B, 57, and Park St. — all which have capacity issues. Doing the highway first rather than West Station precludes a long-term transportation vision of converting our commuter rail (with more urban infill) into express subway lines that increase the the number of paths to major destinations.

  • LizB

    West station will also function as a bus station and transportation hub with east-west and north-south connections. We need a bus station. Inbound Greyhound and Peter Pan buses used to stop at Riverside in Newton so travelers coming to Brighton could take the T or be picked up there. That option stopped some years ago and now we have to drive into South Station to pick up and drop off bus passengers. West Station would serve a much larger population that the DOT seems to appreciate.