Almost 100 acres of Harvard-owned land in Allston currently occupied by the Massachusetts Turnpike will be made available for development, thanks to a turnpike redesign plan selected by the Mass. Department of Transportation last week after eight years of deliberation.
In a Sept. 29 announcement, the Department of Transportation said it will move forward with a design plan that straightens and lowers the roadway to ground level. The plan, called an “at-grade” option, will ditch the existing elevated viaduct in favor of a side-by-side freeway and pedestrian boardwalk along the Charles River bank. The design will straighten the turnpike, which currently curves through a 91-acre plot of Harvard land known as Allston Landing South.
Harvard, which previously advocated for a ground-level design, applauded last week’s decision.
“The Modified At-Grade design option has benefited from strong support across the community and is a pivotal step toward realizing a shared vision for creating neighborhood connectivity, expanding green space, increasing regional transit opportunities, and enabling new economic development potential for the region,” University spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke wrote in an emailed statement.
The University acquired the Allston Landing South property in 2003 but was unable to move forward with development due to legal restrictions that limited the property’s use to exclusively railroad operations.
The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority selected the site in 2014 as the location for “West Station,” a proposed commuter rail station that will connect Allston to South Station along the existing Framingham/Worcester line. Harvard has committed $58 million to date to fund the new station.
The selection of the ground-level redesign plan last week marks a big step in clearing the way for the station, as well as opening up dozens of previously undeveloped acres for Harvard’s use.
“The project presents a transformative opportunity that will benefit not only the City of Boston, but also the entire region,” O’Rourke wrote. “Harvard looks forward to continuing to work closely with the Commonwealth as this work advances in the months ahead.”
State Representative Michael J. Moran, a Democrat critical of Harvard’s development plans in Allston, lauded the decision to ground the highway, saying that it was the option supported by his constituents and local advocates.
“It provides the best option, in my opinion, for a vibrant and well thought out West Station, as well as the ability for Harvard to properly plan the 100 or so acres that they’re going to receive from the straightening of the Mass. Pike,” Moran said in an interview with The Crimson.
The state’s announcement comes as Harvard is seeking approval from the City of Boston for a proposed 900,000-square-foot, mixed-use development called the Enterprise Research Campus. The school has received forceful pushback from elected officials and civic groups in the neighborhood, who have argued that Harvard has not engaged with residents enough, leaving them in the dark about the University’s long-term plans in the area.
On Monday, though, Moran expressed hope that Harvard’s vast property holdings in Allston — roughly one-third of the neighborhood — would give residents and officials a better ability to influence the school’s development plans.
“That is the good part about Harvard owning all that land,” Moran said.
—Staff writer Jasper G. Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman.
—Staff writer Kelsey J. Griffin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kelseyjgriffin.