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For Allston residents who have long fought for better transportation to downtown Boston, news earlier this week that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will build a $25 million commuter rail station on Harvard-owned land in the neighborhood brought satisfaction and cautious enthusiasm.
A direct public transportation route from Allston to downtown Boston has been a perennial request in Harvard Allston Task Force meetings and neighborhood planning for years. Allston lies just a few miles from downtown, but residents currently must take a bus to Harvard Square or Commonwealth Ave. near Boston University to get there by public transportation.
As recently as last spring, a station appeared to be off the table.
But under preliminary plans announced Tuesday, that would change by 2020, with the completion of “West Station,” connecting the neighborhood to the existing Framingham/Worcester line, which originates at South Station. The station is to be built on the Beacon Park Rail Yards, which lie south of Cambridge St. and are owned by Harvard.
“We felt it was only right...for us to get a commuter rail station,” said Anthony D’Isidoro, a board member of the Allston Civic Association. He, along with many other Allston residents, described the challenge community members face getting into the city.
“One of the few things about this neighborhood that is challenging is that there isn’t a really direct way to downtown,” long-term Allston resident Joyce Radnor said. “In theory, [the station] is a beautiful thing.”
Allston residents added that many questions about the station remain, including the frequency of trains passing through, pedestrian and bicycle access routes, and the continued commitment to public transportation by state leadership as Massachusetts elects a new governor this fall.
Many of those variables will likely be determined during the planning process for the realignment of the adjacent Massachusetts Turnpike, a $260 million project that made the West Station project possible. The Pike realignment also falls on Beacon Park Rail Yards, a 91-acre parcel of land the University bought in 2003. In addition to the land on which the station will be built, the University is also contributing one third of the project’s cost, around $8 million.
Allstonians said that investment is small compared to the long-term returns it could yield for the University as the two projects free up dozens of Harvard-owned acres for new development.
“A transit station there will hugely increase the value of the land, all of which Harvard owns,” said Jessica B. Robertson, an Allston resident and a member of the task force advising the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on the realignment project.
Kevin Casey, Harvard's associate vice president for public affairs and communications, said that the University was also a big supporter of the station.
“The obvious enormous benefits the station would bring to the entire community and region, including Harvard students, faculty and staff made a public/private partnership the smart and responsible thing to do,” he wrote in an emailed statement.
Harvard’s current institutional master plan for Allston development in the decade does not include any plans on the land in question.
Still, Radnor said that she believes “given Harvard’s long-term plan [over the next 50 to 100 years], this area will all be Harvard. That rail station certainly helps our neighborhood in the short term, but if I’m Harvard I’m thinking that long term...this is really a benefit to them.”
–Staff writer Karl M. Aspelund can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @kma_crimson.
—Staff writer Marco J. Barber Grossi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @marco_jbg.
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