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Harvard Affiliates Praise the University’s West Station Pledge

Allston Construction
Construction in Harvard's 'Enterprise Research Campus,' a planned 36-acre center for entrepreneurship in Allston

Following Harvard’s $50 million pledge to West Station, many affiliates praised the University’s commitment to improving transportation services in Allston.

Last month, Harvard promised $50 million to fund West Station, a commuter rail stop on the Framingham-Worcester line, and up to $8 million to help construct another, interim transportation station in Allston. This pledge marks a significant increase from the University’s previous commitment of one third of the estimated development costs.

In Oct. 2014, when Harvard made the initial pledge, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority announced plans to construct a new commuter rail station—West Station—to connect Allston to downtown Boston and the greater Boston area. The MBTA planned to build the station on Harvard-owned land near Beacon Park Yard.

Executive Vice President Katie N. Lapp wrote in an emailed statement that Harvard’s increased pledge follows a series of other actions by the University to promote the Interstate-90 Allston Interchange Improvement Project, which will include the removal of the Houghton rail spur to realign Soldier’s Field Road.

“Harvard has viewed West Station as a critical and essential element to the Interchange project,” Lapp wrote. “It is our hope that these commitments might alleviate some of the financial concerns associated with the project.”

Monica Tibbits-Nutt, a freshman proctor who sits on the fiscal and management control board of the MBTA, said the increased pledge was “unprecedented and unusual.” She said that Harvard’s actions marked a turning point in the relationship between the state’s transportation system and the university.

“It’s a really wonderful step in the right direction, especially with the partnerships between the MBTA and our other local universities,” she said.

Rosabeth M. Kanter, a professor at the Harvard Business School, said the pledge is “forward-thinking” and “visionary.” She said she believes that the investment will help alleviate traffic congestion, reduce carbon emissions, and spur economic development.

“Public transit investments generally bring in a multiplier of three or four to one in new economic activity,” she wrote in an email statement.

While many praised Harvard’s increased pledge, the University is not the only potential funder of West Station.

José A. Gómez-Ibáñez,a professor of urban planning and public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, called upon Boston University to contribute funds to West Station as well.

“If your notion of fairness was that the biggest beneficiaries ought to pay, then some combination of a big contribution from Harvard, a significant contribution from BU, and a surcharge on property taxes and value on the station would be a fair way to go,” he said.

Boston University had initially promised to fund one-third of the costs, but it did not finalize its pledge. At the time, BU was concerned about how the new station’s North-South connections would affect the University’s campus.

In response to Harvard’s increased commitment, BU spokesperson Colin Riley said that the university will continue to support the construction of West Station.

“We look forward to both discussing these new developments with the community, the state, the city, and Harvard, and determining how BU can help,” Riley wrote.

Riley did not respond when asked for comment regarding criticisms of BU not pledging funds.

Regardless of funding distribution, Gómez-Ibáñez stressed the importance of constructing a station soon. In particular, he said he was concerned that the interim station may become semi-permanent or permanent.

“In that case, I think it would be the best case for everyone to build the station soon and not wait for some state aid that may be a long time in coming,” he said.

—Staff writer Truelian Lee can be reached at truelian.lee@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @truelian_lee.

—Staff writer Jacqueline P. Patel can be reached at jacqueline.patel@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @jppatel99.

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