With Turnpike Project Meeting Approaching, Allstonians Hope for Positive Changes

With the first community meeting regarding a realignment of the Massachusetts Turnpike scheduled for next Thursday, Allston residents said they hope the $260 million construction project will produce positive changes in the community.

The construction will take place on Harvard-owned land and will require coordination between the state, the University, and current companies operating on the property, as a stretch of the Mass. Pike in Allston is rebuilt and straightened.

“Straightening the Turnpike is good for people who drive through Allston every day, but we want it to be good for those who live in Allston as well,” Allston resident Richard Parr ’01 said.

To that end, residents have mobilized around what they call the “People’s Pike,” a proposed recreational path for cyclists, joggers, and walkers connecting the Allston neighborhood with Harvard and the Charles River.

Resident Harry E. Mattison called the People’s Pike the combined vision of transportation advocates and the community that would compliment GreenDOT, the effort of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to increase sustainability.

“We hope to see that this project in Allston embodies the spirit of the GreenDOT program,” said Mattison, who will sit on the Allston Interchange Improvement Task Force, an advisory board to MassDOT during the planning process for the Mass. Pike construction. He added that the People’s Pike would ensure that “cycling is not an afterthought.”

Resident Paola M. Ferrer said that, as a grassroots campaign, the People’s Pike initiative creates more connections than just physical bicycle paths throughout the neighborhood. Ferrer said that efforts to increase the permeability and “liveability” of the neighborhood have mobilized groups of Allston residents, such as the non-English speaking community, who may not have had the opportunity to participate in community activism in the past.

“There is an opportunity here for us to make a meaningful contribution to the future of the neighborhood and to encourage participation from many voices,” she said.

Announced last October, the Mass. Pike straightening project will rebuild a half-mile long viaduct supported by 29 spans built in the mid-1960s that are now structurally deficient. The project will straighten turns at the existing Allston-Brighton toll areas to support new electric “open road” tolling and decrease greenhouse gas emissions by reducing congestion in the traffic-heavy area.

“Mistakes of the 1960s can be torn down and rebuilt for a new era of transportation,” Allston resident Galen M. Mook said.

The viaduct lies above a 91-acre parcel of land that Harvard bought from the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority in 2003. Most of the property consists of railways used by railroad company CSX and the commuter rail of the MBTA.

A large part of the railyard was freed up last year when CSX began to move its operations to Westborough and Worcester. However, the company and the MBTA still hold easement rights to the rail yards, meaning that they are allowed to operate on the University’s property.

Straightening the Mass. Pike would involve construction on Harvard’s property and necessitates the yielding of all of CSX’s easement rights back to the University. Talks between Harvard and CSX about the parameters of yielding these rights and discussions regarding the state’s construction plans are in very early stages, according to a statement from Kevin Casey, Harvard’s acting vice president of public affairs.

As CSX continues the process of transferring its business operations west of Boston and the timing of the transfer of the property to Harvard becomes more clear, we will continue our discussions with the Commonwealth about the many issues associated with this parcel,” Casey wrote.

Allston residents will meet with MassDOT on Thursday, April 10, for the first public meeting concerning the Mass. Pike project. According to Ferrer, the readiness of developers at the DOT to listen to the concerns of the neighborhood signals a positive start to the construction process.

“This is an opportunity for us to chime in and inspire true change in the way that our landscape looks,” Ferrer said.

–Staff writer Karl M. Aspelund can be reached at karl.aspelund@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @kma_crimson.

—Staff writer Marco J. Barber Grossi can be reached at mbarbergrossi@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @marco_jbg.

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