I-90 freeway in Allston will come to a standstill, state says, promising to move forward with mega transport project

“We see an opportunity right now with the potential for further funding,” said Jamey Tesler, Secretary of State for Transport. “We want to have the tough conversations we need so we don’t miss the window. “

The decision, released Wednesday, aims to resolve a deadlock over a narrow area between Boston University and the Charles River known as the “gorge.” For much of the past decade, state transportation officials have attempted to build consensus with community members, activists and the two universities. on how to replace the aging road viaduct that crosses the narrow area, especially without building roads in the river.

“We have heard people loud and clear about what they want to happen here,” Tesler said. “We think it’s time to move on and focus on the tough conversations about how to pay for this project.”

By reducing the shoulders of the freeway in some sections and using an approximately seven-foot-wide expanse of land provided by Boston University, the new design would accommodate eight lanes of Pike, four lanes of Soldiers Field. Road and four railroad tracks at ground level. on land, while rebuilding the Paul Dudley White pedestrian and cycle path on stilts over the river.

Highway administrator Jonathan Gulliver said the state plans to begin the two-year design and licensing process this fall. Construction is expected to take another seven years, Gulliver said.

Many aspects of the project remain unresolved, including the exact design of the new $ 180 million transit stop called West Station, the pedestrian bridges that would connect Allston to the river. (Harvard pledged $ 50 million for a new permanent western station, and BU pledged at least $ 8 million.) Harvard’s plans for its land, known as Beacon Park Yard, to be released for development are also unclear. Resolving the throat design will allow the state to finalize some of the other aspects, Gulliver said.

“It allows us to focus on these other parts of the project,” said Gulliver.

The new design marks the final chapter in the project’s tortuous history. In 2019, for example, the state Department of Transportation announced it would demolish the I-90 overpass and build a new overpass for Soldiers Field Road, over part of the new ground-level toll highway. But objections arose when it became apparent that the plan called for the construction of a temporary causeway in the river.

The nearly ten-year delay in starting the project forced the state to commit $ 75 million for steel and concrete repairs to the crumbling I-90 overpass earlier this year, with repairs due to be made from by 2024. At the time, some proponents of the lowering of the freeway feared the decision would reduce pressure on the Baker administration to lower the freeway permanently, but state transportation officials said said on Wednesday they were committed to pursuing this option as quickly as possible, in part to take advantage of any federal funding that may become available.

“They have turned the page,” said Rick Dimino, president of the A Better City group of companies and a strong advocate for lowering the freeway. “Now the job is to maximize the benefits of that, there is so much to integrate, but at least we’re starting with the right alternative. “

The ground-level option allows Harvard to grow above the tracks and West Station itself using air rights. The university’s plans for the region remain unclear. Scott Bosworth, the state’s undersecretary of transportation, said officials from Harvard told state officials that the area around West Station would be the first part of Beacon Park Yard that they would develop, which could lead to 7 million square feet of construction. But there is room in the old marshalling yard for much more than that.

Harvard is already making plans to develop what it calls its corporate research campus, across Western Avenue from the business school and north of the Pike realignment. New York developer Tishman Speyer is pushing forward plans for 1.9 million square feet of this 14-acre development, which is not dependent on Pike’s realignment. Residents of Allston have pressured Harvard for its plans beyond those 14 acres, with little success. Harvard officials could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

State Representative Mike Moran, who represents Allston, welcomed the design choice for the freeway realignment.

“It’s much more attractive than a massive piece of metal hanging over your neighborhood,” he said. “This gives us the possibility of establishing better connections and of connecting better with the rail [line]. “

While Moran has been an outspoken Harvard critic in the Allston development debate, he acknowledged that having a primary landowner should help city and state officials plan for a neighborhood that avoids some of the shortcomings of the new seaport, which largely arose from an old parking lot. many on the South Boston waterfront.

“We can’t make the same mistakes we made on the waterfront,” Moran said. “The next mayor [of Boston] has a unique opportunity to influence the project and do so in a way that checks all the boxes of transportation, affordability and sustainability.

Michelle Wu, a city councilor running against Councilor Annissa Essaibi George for mayor, made the ground-level option a problem during the election campaign, saying it would solve an injustice that arose in the 1960s when the he extension of the toll motorway was built in the neighborhood. , dividing it in half. “This is a unique opportunity to do it right, to right the wrongs of the past,” Wu said.

The Baker administration’s decision was also welcomed by Acting Mayor Kim Janey and the Boston Planning & Development Agency. The ground level option was a priority for Janey and Mayor Martin J. Walsh before her. In a statement, Janey and the BPDA said removing the highway would generate economic benefits, reduce long-term capital costs and reduce the barrier between residents and the river.

There are still aspects of the plan that have criticism. The Charles River Watershed Association is not happy that the bike and pedestrian path is moved into the river, citing sediment disturbance and damage to marine ecosystems.

“River intrusion is river intrusion, especially when there are 12 traffic lanes that are not needed,” said Emily Norton, executive director of the association.

Another unresolved environmental issue concerns resilience. The Federal Highway Administration recently raised concerns that the ground-level highway option could make pike vulnerable to flooding. Gulliver said state transportation officials are confident a deal can be reached that will address FHA concerns over flooding issues by the end of the year.

Jon Chesto can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto. Taylor Dolven can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @taydolven.

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