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Is the $2 billion Massachusetts Turnpike project in Allston worth it?

Is the Mass Pike Allston project worth the price?
Is the Mass Pike Allston project worth the price? 05:09

BOSTON - It's a rat's nest of roads and retired railyards. Patched up pavement and piddly park space. It is the dreaded Allston interchange on the Mass Pike. Where the road takes a dramatic sweeping turn between an old, retired railyard and the Charles River. 

For many drivers, it's where dreams of getting to work on time go to die. It's also where MassDOT is prepared to spend $2 billion.

"Is it worth it?" David Wade asked Jonathan Gulliver, MassDOT's Highway administrator. He answered quickly and confidently, "I think it is." 

Plan to move the highway

Gulliver says the Mass Pike curve is a curse and getting rid of it will be a blessing. "Our plan is to move the highway in so it's going to get tucked into where the rails are now," Gulliver said. "You are going to open up a lot of land between the rail line and the river that wasn't there before." 

Here's what will happen: First, the crumbling elevated portion of the Pike near Boston University would be brought down to ground level. It is badly in need of repair even without this new project. 

Mass Pike Allston project
Proposed Mass Pike project in Allston CBS Boston

Second, the big curve would be straightened replacing that vacant railyard. Third, a new Commuter Rail station called "West Station" will be built along the existing MBTA tracks. 

Then new roads, overpasses, and pedestrian footbridges would connect the train and neighborhoods, new and old, to four and a half acres of new park space near the river. 

Interestingly, almost all of the new usable land is owned by Harvard University. It's a piece of land about the size of the Seaport and Harvard would be able to develop it. 

Who is paying for the Mass Pike project?

So, is Harvard picking up a big part of the tab? Well, here's how the project is being paid for:

  • More than $300 million will come from a federal grant
  • Almost $500 million in bonds
  • Another $500 million from the new millionaire's tax
  • $200 million from toll money
  • The city of Boston is going to kick in $100 million
  • Nearby Boston University is giving $10 million
  • And Harvard $90 million, about 5% of the price tag

WBZ reached out to Harvard which said it has long been committed to helping the state realize its vision. The school points out it bought all that land from the old Turnpike Authority which, ironically, needed money for a different big project: The Big Dig. 

MassDOT says Harvard has been a great partner and has worked hard to help the state to keep the project moving.

Mass Pike Allston
Aerial view of the Mass Pike curve in Allston CBS Boston

"The amount of money that they are putting in, as well as the partnership that they have been forging with the City of Boston for future revenue I think is going to pay for itself over time," Gulliver said. 

The design renderings of the finished project look pretty nice with a raised boardwalk over the edge of the Charles River along Storrow Drive where there's currently only a small path. 

Concerns about pollution, noise

But Emily Norton of the Charles River Watershed Association, which has been instrumental in cleaning up the river, is not impressed. "The heat. The noise and the pollution, are going to be terrible," Norton said. 

Mass Pike Allston
Design rendering of Mass Pike after Allston project is complete MassDOT

Holding up a MassDOT rendering of lanes of highway next to the four lanes of Storrow Drive right next to the Charles, Norton says she's shocked a highway being unveiled in the mid 2030's would be built that wide, when we are supposedly aiming to reduce our dependence on cars. 

Norton says, "My fear is that if it's built the way that we have now, there are a lot of people who are going to be like, 'what the hell did you guys do with our $2 billion?'"

How long will the project take to complete?

MassDOT says once the project begins, it will take about six to ten years to finish. Building the new straightened road alongside the old should help minimize traffic issues but Jonathan Gulliver warns, "I don't' want to sugarcoat it, there's a lot of moving parts and there will be impacts."

If you have a question you'd like us to look into, please email   

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