Replacement of the Allston viaduct and realignment of the Massachusetts Turnpike would open up 85 acres of land for development and add a brand-new commuter rail station. Courtesy photo

Harvard University is seeking to build an air rights development above the Massachusetts Turnpike in Allston as part of the $1.7 billion Interstate 90 rebuild, according to a letter from a state legislator asking Harvard to go public with its plans.

State Rep. Michael Moran, D-18th Suffolk, asked Harvard to schedule a public meeting before summer to provide details on its discussions with Boston and state officials.

“Given the additional development that decking will unlock for Harvard, my constituents would like to know the University’s intentions for air rights development,” Moran wrote in a May 9 letter to Harvard Executive Vice President Katie Lapp obtained by Banker & Tradesman.

Harvard has committed to building a deck above the Turnpike and former CSX rail yard for the project, according to the correspondence.

For years, MassDOT officials have been debating design and funding for the massive multimodal project, estimated at $1.7 billion. The project includes replacement of the aging Turnpike viaduct, realignment of the highway lanes and construction of a new West Station on the MBTA commuter rail’s Framingham-Worcester line.

Last September, MassDOT unveiled its latest plan including four rail lines, eight Turnpike lanes, a four-lane Soldiers Field Road including an elevated section and pedestrian boardwalk over the Charles River.

In his letter, Moran said a “high level development plan” is needed and asked for more specifics on the type, size and density of Harvard’s future development.

“While we believe that decking and air rights development can help knit the two sides of Allston back together, my constituents, in conjunction with the city of Boston, must be involved in the decision-making process for future air-right development,” Moran wrote. “We seek a comprehensive urban planning process rather than Harvard’s current piecemeal approach, which is fragmented and opaque.”

MassDOT is discussing cost-share options and “creative financing techniques” for the I-90 project with Harvard and the city of Boston, according to a statement from the agency.

In a statement, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s office said the city has jurisdiction over the development’s approval.

“In every aspect of this development project, the city of Boston prioritizes an open and transparent community process that incorporates the feedback of Allston residents. The city will work with the community to build a plan that promotes climate resiliency, green space for Allston’s families, and a public transit-oriented future to better connect all of Boston’s neighborhoods,” according to the statement.

A Harvard spokeswoman acknowledged the letter but said a response was not immediately available.

The project would move the highway lanes south and give Harvard a contiguous stretch of land to the north for future development.

Harvard announced its support for the latest MassDOT plan last fall, and MassDOT Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver said Harvard and the city of Boston would be expected to contribute.

Two other air rights developments over the Massachusetts Turnpike are under way in Boston. Samuels & Co. is constructing an office-lab building and citizenM hotel on a parcel across from the corner of Newbury Street and Massachusetts Avenue. Meredith Management and IQHQ Inc. plan two office-lab towers between the Brookline Avenue and Beacon Street overpasses in the Fenway.

Harvard acquired former CSX rail parcels next to the former Allston-Brighton toll plaza in the past decade and owns approximately a third of the land in the Allston neighborhood.

The highway project is estimated to take 10 years to complete, following regulatory approvals and approval of funding which could include federal infrastructure money.

The university is proposing an Enterprise Research Campus on 36 acres along Western Avenue, including a first phase currently seeking approval from the Boston Planning & Development Agency amid opposition from community groups and elected officials. Harvard also is partnering with Berkeley Investments on redevelopment of a uncompleted telecom hotel at 176 Lincoln St. in Allston into a proposed 772,000-square-foot mixed-use development.

Editor’s note: This report has been updated with a statement from Mayor Michelle Wu’s office.

Harvard Seeks Air Rights Development over Mass. Pike

by Steve Adams time to read: 3 min