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Allston Community Calls for Neighborhood Improvements through Mass. Turnpike Realignment

By Marco J. Barber Grossi, Crimson Staff Writer

Approximately 200 community members, transportation officials, and elected representatives gathered to voice their opinions and goals for the $260 million Allston interchange project Thursday evening. The project will impact Harvard-owned land.

The meeting, run by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and held at the Jackson Mann School in Allston, kicked off the preliminary planning process for the development that will straighten the portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike that spans Allston, introduce all-electronic tolling, and—many community members hope—increase pedestrian and cyclist connections between Allston Village, North Allston, and the Charles River area.

The realignment of the turnpike, which is expected to begin in 2017, will take place on Harvard-owned land. Harvard is expected to receive the land on which the existing Mass. Pike viaduct stands after the realignment is complete in 2020. Kevin Casey, the University’s acting vice president for public affairs, previously said the school will discuss the land’s future with the state.

“I’m so impressed with the massive turnout [at the meeting],” Massachusetts State Representative Kevin G. Honan said. “This project seeks to do so many good things...including reuniting North Allston with South Allston,” he added, referring to a neighborhood divide that is largely attributed to the current Mass. Pike orientation.

After a preliminary introduction of potential development designs including a variety of concepts for interchanges between the Pike and the neighborhood, MassDOT officials opened the floor up to the community, offering each commenter two minutes to address the development team with questions or comments on the plan. Every person who expressed a desire to speak upon signing in before the meeting was offered a chance to comment.

The majority of comments focused on the challenges faced by cyclists in the Allston-Brighton area and the hope that the Mass. Pike realignment could create solutions to many transportation problems besides those faced by drivers.

“I bike, I drive, I walk, and all of those things are the most abysmal things that could happen to you on Cambridge St. currently,” commenter David Maerz said. He called the Mass. Pike project “the most transformative thing that could happen to Allston,” requesting that the project include a broad scope that goes beyond highway development.

Allston resident Harry E. Mattison echoed the call for a broader scope.

“It’s a transportation and highway project, but it also needs to be about a community project that will make this neighborhood a better place to live, work, and visit,” Mattison said.

Numerous commenters mentioned improved bike lanes and paths, safer street crossings, and better managed vehicular traffic as neighborhood improvements that could be produced by the Mass. Pike realignment project.

There was also discussion of the fate of the land, much of which will be owned by Harvard, that will be freed up after the construction is complete.

Massachusetts State Senator William N. Brownsberger called Harvard “the elephant in the room,” asking what role the University would play in future development of the vacant land around the construction site. The development team and MassDOT officials said it was too early to know any details about land beyond the turnpike realignment itself.

Commenters from the community expressed gratitude for the willingness of the MassDOT officials to welcome input from the community.

Allston resident Galen M. Mook called the meeting a “good show of good faith, considering some of the projects that have happened in the neighborhood.”

Community members said they hope this transparency will continue throughout the development process.

“Thank you to MassDOT for having a good, open, back-and-forth process from the very beginning,” commenter Jessica Roberts said.

—Staff writer Marco J. Barber Grossi can be reached at mbarbergrossi@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @marco_jbg.

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