In Oct. 2014, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority proposed connecting Allston to Boston and the surrounding area through a new commuter rail station called West Station, slated to be built on Harvard-owned land near Beacon Park Yard. Harvard committed at the time to pay one third of the building costs.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation originally planned to complete West Station by 2025, but late last year announced it will instead begin construction nearly two decades later in 2040, in part due to financial concerns.
After state politicians and citizens raised an outcry over the delay, Harvard increased its funding pledge to $50 million, a significant increase. The University also offered to allot up to $8 million to help build an interim, “early action” transit station prior to the completion of West Station.
In the wake of the University’s pledge, announced last week, some Allston and Brighton residents said they were thrilled by the promised influx of Harvard money.
Daniel J. Daly, who lives in Brighton, said Harvard’s new funding commitment amounts to “saving that project that was disappearing.”
“I believe with Harvard’s increased pledge, the station will be complete before 2040,” he said.
Others were less optimistic. Allstonian Max Rome said he believes Harvard has the capacity to pledge even more money to West Station.
In a public letter sent in late January, state politicians called on Harvard to pay nearly the entire cost of West Station. Were the University to do so, it would have to fork over almost $100 million, according to the most recent estimates.
“I think that it’s their [Harvard’s] responsibility to help with projects like this especially given how much they’ve been able to take from this city,” Tony Arias, another Allston resident, said.
In a statement responding to the state politicians' letter, University spokesperson Brigid O'Rourke reaffirmed Harvard's commitment to footing part of the bill.
“The University...remains committed to working with the Commonwealth, the City, MassDOT and all stakeholders towards a comprehensive vision that will contribute to the entire region," O'Rourke wrote.
Apart from his financial concerns, Rome also said he has reservations about West Station more generally, calling the plans “mediocre.”
Specifically, he said he thinks the proposed commuter rail station lacks “connectivity,” meaning it provides service to an inadequate number of locations.
“I would say that West Station is not the holy grail of doing a transit-oriented development. West Station is like the pathetic minimum that we should absolutely be locking in,” he said.
Rome pointed to what he called a lack of adequate public transportation in Seaport District, a recently developed neighborhood in South Boston, as a “mistake” to avoid in Allston.
He particularly stressed the importance of incorporating transportation into Allston developmental plans more broadly.
“I think the point is that it would be totally crazy to move ahead with this project without building the transit into this project,” Rome said. “If you build the transit now, then people who are getting jobs can build their lives around knowing that they can take the train to the job.”
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