UPDATED: Sept. 30, 2014, at 11:49 p.m.
BOSTON—Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials unveiled Tuesday afternoon preliminary plans to build a new $25 million commuter rail station on Harvard-owned property in Allston and announced that the University has agreed to cover one third of the cost.
Currently dubbed “West Station,” the project will connect Allston to the existing Framingham/Worcester commuter rail line, which originates at South Station. It will also include an MBTA layover and maintenance facility.
The news was delivered during a rainy ceremony at the University-owned Beacon Park Rail Yard, where the new station and associated infrastructure will be located. It comes as the Massachusetts Department of Transportation begins its $260 million realignment of the adjacent Massachusetts Turnpike, which aims to reroute the highway above the rail yard.
Harvard bought the 91-acre parcel where both developments will take place from the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority in 2003. It lies south of Cambridge Street and the majority of Harvard’s Allston interests. Most of the property currently consists of rails used by the MBTA and formerly used by the private railroad company CSX.
CSX moved most of its operations to Westborough and Worcester last year, freeing up a large part of the property and spurring the announcement of the realignment project in October 2013. Under current plans, the realignment would potentially free up dozens of acres of Harvard property for development.
The West Station news drew praise from Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78 and Boston Mayor Marty J. Walsh, who spoke on Tuesday of the West Station project’s power to transform the Allston community, a goal that they emphasized Harvard shares with the City and the community.
“This is much more than a highway project; it is a connection for the community,” Walsh said, speaking to a small crowd of onlookers in the rain from a MBTA commuter rail train. “The investment made by Harvard, by the governor, and by the community is outstanding.”
Plans for a potential West Station have been floated for years, but earlier this spring, MassDOT officials had said there was not enough funding for the project to be undertaken alongside the realignment. That changed, officials said, due to community demand voiced by a 49-person task force of Allstonians.
Officials at a Sept. 18 Allston community meeting about the realignment project stressed that West Station will not include large parking lots for those driving into Boston, as it is meant for neighborhood use and in particular the many college students living in Allston and Brighton during the school year.
At the rail yard event Tuesday, MassDOT Secretary Richard A. Davey explicitly thanked University Executive Vice President Katherine N. Lapp for her help in securing the preliminary commitment from Harvard. Lapp was invited to speak at the event but declined.
Davey noted that the Massachusetts state government will also contribute a third of the funds for the station. MassDOT has yet to find a source for a third of the funding. Toll revenue from the Turnpike, meanwhile, will fund the larger realignment project, according to MassDOT officials.
Other speakers at the event included elected leaders of many levels, including Allston’s State Senator William N. Brownsberger and State Representative Kevin G. Honan.
MBTA expects a contract for West Station to be awarded in 2017, the same year that construction is slated to begin on the Turnpike realignment, a three-year project.
–Staff writer Karl M. Aspelund can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @kma_crimson.
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