UPDATED: January 24, 2018 at 8:42 p.m.
Harvard has pledged $50 million to fund West Station and promised up to $8 million to help construct another, interim transportation station in Allston.
Harvard Executive Vice President Katherine N. Lapp announced the University’s new funding commitments in a letter sent to MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack Wednesday morning. The $50 million number—roughly half the projected cost of the station—marks a significant increase from Harvard’s previous commitment to fund a third of the construction of West Station, a commuter rail station slated to be built on University-owned land in Allston.
“Together, these contributions will enhance the significant public-private partnership between Harvard and the Commonwealth,” Lapp wrote in the letter. “These investments also represent Harvard’s deep commitment to the Commonwealth's long-term economic growth.”
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority first proposed building West Station in Oct. 2014, calling for a commuter rail station to connect Allston to Boston and the surrounding area. Harvard committed at the time to pay one third of the building costs, which would amount to $30-35 million per current estimates of the construction price tag.
MassDOT originally planned to complete West Station by 2025. Due in part to financial concerns, however, the department announced in an updated proposal in late 2017 that it will instead begin construction nearly two decades later in 2040.
In response to that announcement, some Massachusetts politicians called on Harvard to pay for “almost the entire cost” of West Station in a public letter released last week.
Harvard also pledged Wednesday to contribute up to eight million dollars to help build an “early action” commuter rail station in Allston Landing South. In pushing for the construction of the temporary station, Lapp referenced what she called the significant “disruption and inconveniences” to local residents posed by construction in Allston over the past few years.
“Harvard… hopes that as MassDOT considers taking advantage of the University’s financial commitment to an ‘early action’ station, it will consider the years of construction inconveniences endured by the local community,” Lapp wrote.
Lapp also suggested relocating West Station—currently scheduled to be built in Beacon Park Yard—further north to benefit residents. She wrote the location change would create “a greater buffer” between the neighborhood and the construction area while also allowing for the construction of a new protected pedestrian and bicycle path.
West Station comprises part of the larger Interstate 90 Allston Interchange Improvement Project, a state initiative meant to improve and expand transportation networks in Boston and the surrounding area.
In the letter, Lapp wrote the University hopes MassDOT will reconsider the overall timing of the larger I-90 improvement project. The project is currently divided into three phases: in the first phase, set to end 2025, the state will work to realign the Massachusetts Turnpike and rebuild streets and bridges.
The second phase, slated to take place between 2025 and 2040, involves constructing tracks for train storage and providing various utilities like storage sheds. In the third and final phase, set to begin after 2040, MassDOT will focus on building West Station and connecting it to a bicycle and pedestrian network.
Lapp wrote in the letter that she hopes Harvard’s new funding commitment to an interim station will speed MassDOT’s construction timeline.
“It is University’s hope that by providing funding for an interim West Station facility, serious consideration can be given to an additional option for early phase 1 service even as the specific timing of the full West Station remains under review,” she wrote.
Lapp also raised concerns with the planned ordering of construction projects during phase two. In particular, she wrote the University is troubled by the proposal that MassDOT build a permanent rail facility before they complete West Station. Lapp urged MassDOT to “reconsider.”
Harvard’s decision to fund a larger portion of West Station comes after increased public attention to the issue. In addition to the politicians’ letter last week, the Boston Globe recently published several op-eds calling on the University to do more.
In the letter to MassDOT sent Wednesday, Lapp devoted several paragraphs to summing up what she called Harvard’s “longstanding” commitment to advancing the public interest in Allston.
“It is significant to note... that this project, with all of its associated benefits, may not have been possible absent Harvard’s significant investments over the past fifteen years in the area of the I-90 Interchange,” Lapp wrote, referring to the I-90 improvement project.
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