West Station wrangling

Transit advocates say building the station now will influence future development

IT’S PLAYING OUT as a classic chicken and egg situation.

State officials say calls for a commuter rail station in the area of Allston being developed by Harvard as a major life sciences research hub are premature. They want to leave room for a station at the site, but are eyeing a possible opening in 2040 when the area is more built out.

Transit advocates say the Department of Transportation has it all backwards. Building a station now, they say —  a project that will be made possible by the planned straightening of a section of the Massachusetts Turnpike that runs through the area — will go a long way toward helping shape the type of development that takes place there, with denser, transit-oriented projects more likely to take root.

TransitMatters, a group of brainy transit advocates who are regular contributors to CommonWealth’s weekly podcast, have been making this argument for months. Last December, they laid out the case for building West Station now in this Codcast conversation.

“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,” Jim Aloisi, a former state transportation secretary and TransitMatters board member, said in the discussion. “That’s exactly what’s not happening in Allston.”

The Globe’s Dante Ramos made the same case in a December column, saying it was bad enough that Boston neglected to include enough rail or bus service in building out its first new neighborhood of the 21st century — the Seaport. “Now, the same thing is about to happen again in Allston, except maybe worse,” he wrote.

Today’s Globe weighs in with a newspaper editorial echoing the call for state officials not to let the opportunity pass to get it right with West Station. “Unfortunately, the Baker administration and MassDOT secretary Stephanie Pollock [sic] appear to be on the verge of a historic letdown, allowing nitpicky quibbles to get in the way of what should be an easy call,” it says.

It points out that Harvard alone has already committed to pay nearly two-thirds of the estimated $95 million cost of a station. And it emphasizes, as others have, that the course taken now may become a self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to future development.

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Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

“Without a crystal ball, it’s impossible for anyone to know what will eventually get built on the land in Allston,” says the editorial. “But it’s safe to bet that whether the station is included will prove a key factor, influencing land-use decisions in the area. There’s a legitimate fear that without a station, those plans will veer away from the dense, housing-rich neighborhood that would help the whole state relieve its housing crunch.”

It sounds like just the sort of argument Pollack would have made in her days as a transit advocate and smart-growth policy expert at Northeastern University or the Conservation Law Foundation before joining the Baker administration. It will be fascinating to see how this debate ends.