Will the future Lower Allston be a place that invites people to walk, bike or stay in? Or will it be primarily a place where cars zip through to get somewhere else? Those are the questions Allston’s neighborhood activists are hoping you will help answer next Thursday, April 10 at the first meeting of MassDOT’s massive I-90 straightening project.
First public meeting next week
By its official name, the “Allston I-90 Interchange Improvement Project Public Meeting,” one would not be able to tell how important this meeting is for people. To highlight the massive opportunities for changing Boston’s future, local activists have given a new name to the project: the “People’s Pike.”
What they’re excited about is the opportunity to connect Allston Village and Lower Allston to Central and Kendall squares via an off-road bike path, the opportunity to rebuild Cambridge Street in Allston with cycletracks and strong pedestrian amenities, and to set the stage for development along the Charles that enhances the city for everyone—not just for Harvard University.
“This is a once in a generation opportunity to bring back together Allston north and south of the pike and to completely change how we use the pike in Boston,” said Alana Olsen, director of Allston Village Main Streets. “At this point the piece of land [that will become available] is a 100-acre blank slate. The potential is amazing for what it could be.”
MassDOT comes to the project out of a need to replace aging infrastructure in a way that will mean less maintenance costs in the future, to implement All Electronic Tolling instead of tollbooths, and to straighten the turnpike to occupy the now defunct Beacon Park railway yard—thus opening up a large parcel of land that will end up in Harvard’s ownership.MassDOT has estimated it will save $45m a year in operating expenses going with cashless tolls throughout the state, and the pike is the biggest toll road the state operates. Because the new system will also simplify toll collection rates, many say it’s also likely to increase the annual toll revenue of $329 million. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of money at stake. The project itself will cost between $260 and $500 million, according to various estimates, and spark massive development in the neighborhood, including a small network of new streets.
As it stands, the City of Boston and MassDOT are planning to add cycletracks to the sections of Cambridge Street to be rebuilt—-but have yet to incorporate the more ambitious plans to build a Boston-side landing for the Grand Junction Path that could directly connect the campuses of Harvard, Boston University and MIT.
“What we’d like to do is continue the Grand Junction Path across the railroad bridge that’s under the BU Bridge and parallel the tracks and rail yard all the way to Cambridge Street,” explained John Sanzone, who leads the Friends of the Grand Junction Path. “The main thing is the design of the rail yard. However they resolve that, it would have to accommodate the space for the path. And right now the current push for design and feasibility ends at the BU Bridge on the Cambridge side. To get across the river, we have to start working with the City of Boston.”
The City of Cambridge has conducted a favorable feasibility study on its part of the Grand Junction Path (from the Charles River to the McGrath Highway) and may be convinced to add design money to the coming year’s budget. MIT is commencing its own feasibility study this month, and the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority also included a small piece of it in a public design charrette last month. If people speak up and get it included in the I-90 straightening project as an air quality mitigation measure for the pike’s daily pollute, it would mark the first time the project was taken seriously on the southern shore of the Charles River.
“The meeting on April 10th is a crucial moment to set the tone for this entire project,” said Allston neighborhood activist Jessica Robertson. “If we have a huge turnout, MassDOT will know people care about this project, and they’ll be more motivated to work with us to make sure the end result is designed with people in mind, not just cars.”
Public Meeting for the People’s Pike
(Invite your friends on Facebook)
Thurs. April 10, 6:30pm
Jackson Mann Community Center
500 Cambridge St.