Allston I-90 Interchange Improvement Project

Photo credit from the People’s Pike.

BACKGROUND

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is planning a one-billion dollar reconstruction of the Mass Pike interchange in Allston. This project will replace today’s tangle of highway ramps with a new street grid and allow development on the dozens of acres of land owned by Harvard University that today is trapped under the sprawling interchange.

The Charles River Conservancy, along with many other organizations and individuals, believes that this should be much more than a highway project. It should also create a new Worcester Line commuter rail stop dubbed West Station, a new bus route over the highway to connect Harvard Square, North Allston, West Station, Boston University, Comm Ave, and Longwood. An “Allston Esplanade” of new parkland can be created along the Charles by rebuilding Soldiers Field Road further away from the water. Unfortunately, MassDOT’s current plans schedule construction of West Station in approximately 2040, fail to make any provision for the North Allston – Comm Ave bus connection, and include 4, 5, and 6 lane roads that will be a dangerous barrier to reaching the Charles River.

Thinking more broadly, cities all over the world are re-imaging how their urban rivers can enhance their lives. This project gives Boston such an opportunity. For sixty years, the river path between the BU Bridge and River Street Bridge has been one of the worst stretches of the entire Charles River – a skinny strip of asphalt with a limited view of the water and dominated by the adjacent Soldiers Field Road and elevated Mass Pike viaduct. The viaduct mars the view from Magazine Beach, increases noise pollution as truck engines labor up and and down the steep slope of the highway, and prevents access to the Charles from the BU campus and Commonwealth Avenue.

The Charles River Conservancy supports a “grounding” of this portion of the Mass Pike which can be accomplished by building the new highway flat and at-grade instead of on a new elevated viaduct. An at-grade highway costs millions of dollars less than a new viaduct, reduces the duration and complexity of construction, and brings new possibilities to this too-long neglected portion of the Charles River.

Enhancements possible with an at-grade highway include:
    • New footbridges from Comm Ave to the parkland near Brookline’s Amory Street and Pleasant Street
    • Straightening the path at the BU Bridge by rebuilding the small railroad bridge that crosses Soldiers Field Road to provide a more direct alternative to the existing wooden boardwalk.
    • Creating wider, separated paths for people walking, biking, and jogging, perhaps with a new boardwalk or floating paths.

If this project can be improved to prioritize bus and rail transit and access to the Charles on safe and human-scaled streets (no more than 4 lanes wide), the result will be a signature new community for Boston’s 21st Century with benefits that will be felt locally and regionally.

In November of 2017, MassDOT submitted a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) which proved disappointing. None of the reconstruction plans proposed create a parklike riverfront or adequate pedestrian and bike paths. The report also made public the department’s plan to postpone opening West Station until 2040.

Since then, the Conservancy has teamed up with a coalition of parkland and transportation groups to advocate for better solutions for the region and for the river.

Click here to watch CCTV’s 1/10/2018 show on I-90 issues of particular concern to the Charles River Conservancy.

Click here to read the opinion piece “Unchoke the Throat” in CommonWealth Magazine, co-authored by board member Harry Mattisson and Wendy Landman of WalkBoston

Click here to listen to board member Harry Mattison and Wendy Landman of Walk Boston rethink the Turnpike Allston Interchange on WBUR.

Check out this two minute video below made in collaboration with WalkBoston that summarizes the problem and our ideas for solutions:

The CRC submitted comments on the I-90 DEIR to Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Matthew Beaton, and we encouraged others to do so as well. Read our letter here.

 

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  • Click here to visit the People’s Pike website or here to join the People’s Pike email list
  • Follow People’s Pike on Twitter and Facebook

 

Recent News
Updates

 

February 9, 2018: Deadline to submit comments on the I-90 DEIR to Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Matthew Beaton. The CRC encouraged parkland supporters to write letters, and close to 50 did! The CRC also submitted a letter of comment, readable here.

February 7, 2018: Board member Harry Mattison and Wendy Landman of WalkBoston talk on WBUR Boston Radio about rethinking the Turnpike Allston Interchange. Listen here.

February 3, 2018: Board member Harry Mattison and Wendy Landman of WalkBoston co-author opinion piece “Unchoke the Throat” published in CommonWealth Magazine.

January 24, 2018: Harvard University offers to nearly double its financial contribution to $58 million for the construction of West Station in a letter to the Department of Transportation aimed at accelerating their plans. Harvard wants some of its contribution to fund an interim version of the station for open by the mid-2020s.

November 30, 2017: MassDOT filed a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR). The document makes public MassDOT’s plan to postpone the construction of West Station until 2040 and their reconstruction proposals fail to create a parklike riverfront with adequate pedestrian and bike paths.

February 7, 2017: A group of Allston residents and advocacy orgs, including the CRC, hosted a community meeting about the I-90 Allston project. Watch a recording of the meeting. The Harvard Crimson published, Residents Express Planning Goals at Mass Pike Public Meeting.

January 19, 2017Our friends at the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association hosted a meeting about how the I-90 project will affect Cambridge residents at the Central Square Library, beginning at 7:00 pm. View the presentation here and watch the video

January 4, 2017: Renata von Tscharner and Rafael Mares in the Boston Globe: Unlocking the Charles River.

December 22, 2016: The CRC submitted comments in response to the December 8th public meeting. Read the letter here.

December 13, 2016: In the Boston Globe: Mass. Improves plan for Allston, but transit challenges remain unsolved.

December 8, 2016: MassDOT hosted a public meeting about the project. The purpose of this meeting was to provide the public with the opportunity to become fully acquainted with progress made over the course of 2016 on concept development for the replacement of the I-90 Allston Interchange and to provide information regarding the next phase of project development.

March 9, 2016: See Renee Loth discuss the I-90 project at the Conservancy’s River Stories: LIVE event from December 2015.

February 28, 2016: In the Boston Globe: Get BU on board for West Station transit

February 25, 2016: In the BrooklineTAB: Town wants voice in renovation

October 18, 2016: The Boston Planning and Development Agency released the I-90 Allston Interchange Placemaking Study.

September 17, 2015: MassDOT invited LivableStreets and A Better City to present alternative layouts for the reconstruction of the I-90 Interchange area. Download the LivableStreets presentation and view the ABC presentation.

August 6, 2015: In the Boston Globe: In Beacon Yards, will the highway trump the neighborhood?

December 15, 2014: In the Boston Globe: Allston Esplanade could emerge from Pike Project

November 12, 2014: MassDOT recently submitted an Environmental Notification Form (ENF) about the project. The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs accepted comments on the ENF before issuing a scoping letter to DOT – read the CRC’s final comments.

In the Allston-Brighton Tab: Allston Brighton residents call for continued involvement in Interstate I-90 project

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

MassDOT’s most up to date concept for the interchange.

The upcoming viaduct reconstruction also presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to positively reshape the Charles River parklands. The highway and nearby roads have squeezed out any opportunities for expanded green space between the River Street Bridge and the BU Bridge for decades.

The Charles River Conservancy is committed to advocating for parkland improvements as part of this massive infrastructure project. With this in mind and with an eye towards cyclist and pedestrian-oriented Charles River parklands, the Conservancy has pledged its support towards the following goals:

  • The construction of “West Station” to improve transit options for the existing community and any new development built as a result of the reconstruction, and the construction of decking over the new rail yard to allow for future development, parkland, and public access. [Update: Governor Patrick recently announced the inclusion of West Station in the I-90 Improvement Project scope! Read more on MassDOT’s blog.]
  • The relocation of Soldiers Field Road between the elevated Mass Pike viaduct and the Doubletree Hotel away from the river, allowing for several new acres of parkland. The road is currently too close to the river to allow for an adequate amount of parkland.
  • The establishment of ample width for all new paths in the Allston Esplanade and in neighborhood connections, for the safe and comfortable accommodation of all users, including handicapped users, walkers, joggers, runners, strollers, and cyclists.
  • The creation of a new cyclist and pedestrian river crossing at the Grand Junction Railroad Bridge, accompanied by a 2nd set of railroad tracks for future transit service between West Station and Kendall Square. These improvements would drastically increase transit and cycling/pedestrian connectivity between Allston and Cambridge.

You can read the full letter with these pledges here. We will continue to work in coalition with the People’s Pike, WalkBoston, the LivableStreets Alliance, and other advocacy organizations to ensure that these goals are included in MassDOT’s final reconstruction plans.

Aerial view of the existing conditions of the I-90 interchange in Allston.

Aerial view of the existing conditions of the I-90 interchange in Allston.

To support the work of the Charles River Conservancy, please consider making a donation today!