The Massachusetts Turnpike realignment effort in Allston has hit a temporary roadblock following the U.S. Department of Transportation’s rejection of a request from the city and state for $1.2 billion to help fund the $2 billion project.
The state had aimed to begin construction in late 2022 or early 2023, though the project was first introduced almost a decade ago in 2014. Without a clear source of funding for the project, however, its timeline will likely be pushed back.
As it stands, the major strip of highway runs parallel to the Charles River before taking an above-ground detour as it bisects the neighborhood of Allston.
The area subject to construction is called the Throat, because it funnels train tracks and 12 lanes of highway through a small strip of land by elevating some of the lanes above Soldiers Field Road. Currently, the highway circumvents a large plot of land now owned by Harvard, but under the proposed construction, the road would cut directly through Harvard’s property.
Allston residents and drivers on the Mass. Pike said they widely support the realignment in principle.
“No one likes what’s there now,” said Allston resident Harry E. Mattison. “What’s there now is a massive unused parcel in a very prime location.”
Despite the potential of the project to bring new development to Allston, including a commuter rail station, the rejection did not come as a shock to government officials and residents.
“I don’t think we were surprised that we got turned down the first time,” said Anthony P. D’Isidoro, president of the Allston Civics Association and a Harvard-Allston Task Force member.
“There are still things that need to be worked on and the design needs to be refined even more,” he added.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu ’07, who discussed the funding rejection on Radio Boston Monday, explained her tempered expectations for the initial application.
“Many of the projects ahead of us in the queue were further along in their design and planning and had been in the application process for a long time,” she said. “We’ll keep going.”
Despite strong support from the city and state, however, the environmental advocacy group Charles River Watershed Association remains opposed to the project’s current form.
In December, the group said in a statement that they oppose the current plan because it would push construction and traffic up against the Charles, bringing increased pollution, heightening flood risk, and adversely impacting river health.
Emily Norton, executive director of the CRWA, said the funding request’s rejection marks an opportunity to discuss lane reduction.
“It’s 2023. We should not be building 12 lanes of roadway on the banks of the Charles River,” she said.
CRWA Deputy Director of Advocacy Jennifer Ryan wrote in an email that the current design would be detrimental to the city’s sustainability goals.
“MassDOT’s current at-grade proposal doubles down on failed 20th century highway design — reenforcing dependence on cars, taking us further from our climate goals, and continuing to pollute both Allston and the Charles River,” Ryan wrote.
In an emailed statement, a Boston city spokesperson wrote the city believes the project still holds potential due to improvements it could provide for public transportation, city infrastructure, and housing and job opportunities.
The spokesperson said Boston remains committed to working with the state, Allston, Harvard, and the federal government to design and finance the project.
In May 2022, then-University Executive Vice President Katherine N. Lapp wrote to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg ’04, a former Crimson editor, in support of the project.
“Alongside other stakeholders and members of the community, Harvard shares a vision for the Project that will advance mobility, connectivity, and regional economic growth while also addressing civic and community needs across Allston-Brighton,” the letter reads.
—Staff writer Jack R. Trapanick can be reached at email@example.com.