Rick Dimino

Rick Dimino

Creating a new neighborhood and economic district in Boston is achievable, under a proposal by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to reconstruct parts of the Massachusetts Turnpike and Soldiers Field Road. The Allston Interchange Project represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the Boston region. Here, smart transportation planning and an emphasis on long-term benefits is a reason to be proud of our state government and optimistic for the future. Boston’s new frontier is more than just a transportation project; it is city-building that will benefit commuters and the economy throughout Massachusetts.  

A structurally deficient section of the turnpike must be replaced within the next decade. MassDOT considered rebuilding this elevated highway above the existing Beacon Rail Yard tracks or alternatively redesigning the entire area to place the turnpike road at ground level. Positioning highway lanes, railroad tracks, Soldiers Field Road and improved parklands along the Charles River together in a very narrow space is a small challenge, but the benefits to reworking the area are tremendous and widespread.  

Some supported a status quo plan of rebuilding the elevated highway, but in the end, state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack showed leadership and creativity with the decision to bring the turnpike down. The recommended plan will put the turnpike at ground level, with only a small section of Soldiers Field Road becoming elevated. This plan would result in a new neighborhood grid in Allston, increased open space and over 50 acres of developable land, all for the same projected cost of rebuilding an elevated structure. 

This decision and project are important for commuters traveling to Boston or Cambridge from MetroWest, Worcester County, and beyond. Travelers on the turnpike and Commuter Rail will be impacted by construction for five years, but this reality would occur under either option of a rebuilt elevated turnpike or the “at-grade” plan. Detailed traffic management plans will be crucial, but MassDOT has demonstrated real success in past years during difficult construction projects. Still, we need to look decades into the future and design a plan to maximize the potential benefits to the area and commonwealth. Through that perspective, a reconstructed area in Allston could thrive if a future transit station is created as soon as possible.   

West Station Transit Options Are Key 

A future “West Station” is the key for local residents, regional commuters and the economic development opportunities. It could bring new rapid transit service for Allston residents and connections for Commuter Rail passengers along the Worcester/Framingham line. If built properly, West Station could allow passengers to make a direct connection to Kendall Square via train, or to either Longwood Medical Area or Harvard Square on a bus. Getting to Allston from the north and east would also become possible through a refurbished rail track called “the Grand Junction.” Using this track, it is even possible to design a connection to North Station. West Station can become the next Back Bay station, or it could become a standard Commuter Rail stop. This choice is clear and West Station should be considered an important mitigation project to be opened without delay.  

We can learn from the past examples of city-building in metropolitan Boston. In Davis Square, the extended Red Line and new station transformed an area of Somerville that continues to thrive. Assembly Square is experiencing dramatic growth supported by a new Orange Line station. By contrast, in the South Boston Waterfront, rapid transit options were scaled back, cut or are expected to be revisited after development occurred. This new area of Allston can become the next great section of the Boston area, if transportation infrastructure is maximized to support both its early and long-term use.  

Funding Necessary for Boston-Area Roads and Tunnels 

The Allston Interchange Project is estimated to cost over $1 billion under any project design plan, and funding has yet to be identified. Drivers pay a toll on the turnpike in Allston and when using some of these tunnels. Expanded tolling and increased toll rates should be a potential solution to financing the required maintenance work and the new interchange. A recent inspection report conducted by HNTB proclaimed the tunnels in Boston need additional maintenance funding. The repairs to these essential roadway connections – the Central Artery, Sumner, Callahan and Ted Williams tunnels, and the turnpike under the Prudential Center – will cost an additional $400 million over the next decade.  

2019 should be a year of urgency to advance the Allston Interchange project, a robust West Station and a comprehensive transportation finance plan to fund these items. The initial vision expressed by MassDOT is sound and a great starting point. If the transit components of West Station and the Grand Junction are paired with the Allston Interchange roads, then Allston will utilize the best possible plans for developing a successful future, and all of Massachusetts will stand to benefit. 

Rick Dimino is president and CEO of A Better City. 

Boston’s Next Frontier Is Well-Positioned

by Rick Dimino time to read: 3 min