MassDOT Updates Plan to Straighten Highway on Harvard-Owned Land

UPDATED: December 9, 2016, at 5:10 p.m.

Officials from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation detailed updates to the agency’s plans for straightening a portion of Interstate 90 that will cross Harvard-owned land in Allston during a public meeting Thursday.

The project, projected to cost $260 million, will straighten the Mass. Turnpike over Allston Landing South, a 91-acre parcel of land Harvard purchased from railroad company CSX Transportation in 2003.

The realignment will be accompanied by the erection of West Station, a new commuter rail stop slated to connect Allston to an existing rail line. The process of realignment will not begin until 2018 or 2019, according to Harvard’s Associate Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications Kevin Casey. When it was announced in Sept. 2014, the new station was scheduled to open in 2020.

“There’s been a lot of reports in the newspapers, there’s been a lot of reports on social media. I want to make sure that you are fully knowledgeable about this project,” Michael J. O’Dowd, who led the meeting, said in his opening remarks. O’Dowd is a project manager for MassDOT.

One of the major updates to the realignment project involves shifting Soldiers Field Road 100 feet to the south, a move that will enlarge park space along the Charles River between the River Street and Boston University bridges. Many area residents had previously called for the creation of additional parkland.

MassDOT officials said some of the proposed updates to the realignment, including moving Soldiers Field Road, were made possible by an agreement recently reached between Harvard and Bruce E. Houghton, the president of Allston-based industrial company Houghton Chemical. A section of rail yard owned by Houghton’s company complicates the construction of the Turnpike, and had limited MassDOT’s ability to move forward with the project.

Under the terms of the deal struck between Houghton and Harvard, Houghton Chemical will relinquish all rights to its rail siding in two years, and Harvard will provide Houghton with an unspecified amount of money to relocate the rail house.

Harry E. Mattison, an Allston resident and member of the Turnpike project task force who attended the meeting, said the new park space along the Charles River was “great,” adding that Harvard deserved “big kudos.” He and several other attendees expressed concern, however, over what they said was MassDOT’s failure to update the public on the status of West Station.

“I think MassDOT has created a huge amount of uncertainty about their commitment to building West Station,” Mattison said.

At the meeting, O’Dowd, pressed by attendees to give a specific timeline for the construction of West Station, refused to do so. He emphasized, however, that MassDOT remained committed to the project.

“If the necessary funds are not in place, the decision will need to be made at that point as to what buildings will be constructed ahead of others, but we have not said that West Station will not be built,” he said.

The station’s construction is projected to cost $25 million, and Harvard and the state government have said they will each shoulder a third of the cost. A funding source for the remaining $8 million is still unclear.

MassDOT communications specialist Patrick Marvin said funding for West Station lay “outside the scope” of Tuesday’s meeting.

—Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at hannah.natanson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction and clarification:

CORRECTION: December 9, 2016

A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that the I-90 is currently on Harvard-owned land. In fact, the proposed realignment would be located on Harvard land.

CLARIFICATION: December 9, 2016

A previous version of this article indicated Houghton Chemical had relinquished rights to its railyard property to Harvard. To clarify, Houghton Chemical will relinquish rights to its rail siding .

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