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It remains unclear whether Boston University will follow through with funding a third of West Station in Allston alongside Harvard and the state government.
Announced in September 2014, West Station, a new commuter rail station to be built on Harvard-owned land, will connect Allston to an existing commuter rail line. Harvard and the state government each agreed at the time and remain committed to cover one third of the cost of the $25 million project, but the Massachusetts Department of Transportation was unable to secure a third party to provide the rest of the funding.
In a September 2014 letter to then-Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78 obtained by the Boston Globe, BU President Robert A. Brown wrote that the university was “prepared to help fund the construction of West Station” pending further discussion and an agreement that would prevent cars and buses from using BU’s West Campus to reach the station. No agreement was ever finalized between BU and the state.
“It was very brazen of BU to write the letter that they wrote,” said Allston resident Richard Parr ’01. “I don’t think the state should agree to the conditions that BU wanted to put on their money.” He added that West Station is “really important” to the neighborhood and the region, and said BU “shouldn’t get a veto on something this important.”
In March 2015, after the Globe published an article on the BU president’s letter, BU spokesperson Colin D. Riley told The Crimson that BU and the state needed to further discuss the impact West Station might have on surrounding neighborhoods before making any official agreement. Since then, little progress has been made.
“We have not been involved in any recent conversations regarding funding West Station, and we don’t expect any to take place in the near future,” Riley wrote in an emailed statement Wednesday. “Right now, our focus is on the public task force process convened by MassDOT.… It is premature to discuss the design, cost, and funding of West Station.”
MassDOT assembled the Allston Interstate 90 Interchange Task Force, comprising Harvard and BU affiliates, city officials, and Allstonians, in April 2014. The task force is charged with advising the state on West Station and the $260 million Mass. Turnpike realignment project, which proposes to straighten I-90 over the Harvard-owned Beacon Park Railyard. Construction on both projects is slated to begin in 2017.
Though the Turnpike task force is intended, in part, to give local residents a voice in the planning process, Parr expressed frustration with what he said was a lack of transparency.
“We do have a task force that includes Allston residents, [but] the problem with it is that we’re all well aware that… if Harvard wants to have a conversation with MassDOT, it can go have a private conversation with MassDOT,” Parr said. “[When] we come to these public meetings where everyone gathers, they say very little about their plans.”
Parr also said Harvard should consider funding “the entire thing itself,” in conjunction with the state, if BU ultimately backs out of its promise to help pay for West Station.
University spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke declined to comment on Parr’s suggestion.
“Harvard has long supported the inclusion of West Station in the project and has committed to participate in the funding,” Kevin Casey, Harvard’s associate vice president for public affairs and communications, wrote in an emailed statement, describing the ongoing task force discussions as “very constructive.”
—Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.
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