Hundreds gathered in an Allston school gymnasium Tuesday to give input on the ongoing effort to renovate the Massachusetts Turnpike, a 138-mile toll road that runs through the Allston area.
At the meeting, members of the Allston Interchange Improvement Task Force briefed neighborhood residents on the most recent plans to straighten and rebuild the turnpike and offered attendees a chance to comment on the proposals.
In October 2013, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation unveiled plans to rebuild the Massachusetts Turnpike’s viaduct, an elevated highway built in 1960s. The structurally unsound viaduct then initiated broader conversations about transit improvement and community development.
Residents at the meeting called for “human-scale” streets as opposed to large highways with accident-prone intersections. They emphasized the need for safer streets for all users, including pedestrians and cyclists.
Allston resident Jessica Robertson said that the streets in MassDOT’s current plans “are too big and not what we want.” She suggested limiting larger streets to a maximum of four lanes and smaller ones to two or three lanes, with no median.
“Ultimately, we want traffic to fit the vision instead of the vision fitting to the traffic,” Robertson said.
During a presentation about north-south Allston travel, Emma Walters, executive director of Allston Village Main Streets, pointed to pictures of traffic jams on Harvard Avenue and Linden Street and said that for many, driving through the intersections presents a challenge.
In addition to residents, elected city and state officials and representatives from Harvard and Boston University were present at the meeting.
Kevin Casey, a Harvard spokesperson who attended the meeting, said MassDOT has made significant progress on the process by engaging with Allston residents.
“The [proposal] that was under consideration last night is one that is night and day from earlier iterations,” Casey said. “I think a lot of it had to do with the organized and thoughtful presentations that [community members] been consistently providing over the course of this entire process.”
In order to straighten the Mass. Pike to free up land for development, MassDOT would have to cross Harvard-owned land in Allston. Harvard’s negotiations with MassDOT on the infrastructure project have resulted in a non-binding Letter of Intent in which Harvard outlines its key objectives.
These objectives, which largely align with those of Allston residents, include straightening the turnpike, building a multi-use bicycle and pedestrian path, and building West Station—a proposed commuter rail station to connect Allston with Boston proper and other western suburbs.
Many residents also voiced concerns about potential delays in construction of the station. Robert Sloane, a senior project manager at the nonprofit WalkBoston said he views West Station as “the centerpiece of this project,” but he thinks the MassDOT sees it as a project of “secondary importance.” Sloane said he would like to see a “rudimentary” West Station open for use while the turnpike is under construction.
However, Casey said, from an engineering perspective, “it could be easier and more certain in terms of the exact location if it were actually designed and constructed with in mind the development that would accompany it.”
“For Harvard, West Station does need to be part of the project, but there can continue to be a discussion on whether part of West Station is there day one or whether the entire station is constructed at a later time when development and demand creates the need,” he said.
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