The next major Boston-area highway project, the Allston project, has recently been called into question because of its inevitable and enormous negative externalities. Last year, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack announced a complex land reconfiguration meant to lower the Massachusetts Turnpike and elevate Soldiers Field Road above it.
By the time of its completion, officials aim to straighten the turnpike, free up real estate for Harvard University development and improve some pedestrian inconveniences. This reconfiguration project is slated to cost $18 billion and take 10 years. But, like with most infrastructure projects in the United States, those numbers may merely be starting points for the Allston project.
Despite the proposal’s categorization as “public works,” it is being disproportionately informed by private interests. That makes the $18 billion price tag even more egregious as the funding will undoubtedly come directly out of taxpayers’ pockets. Why should all of them have to finance an improvement that is accessible only to a highly privileged cohort?
This project is not for the betterment of Boston as a whole or even Boston itself. It will ease up the lives of those in and around Harvard and residents of Cambridge — who are certainly not representative of the whole.
Not only should all residents not have to pay for this, they will have to suffer even worse traffic and congestion than already exists. Boston proper, where a lot of the construction would be taking place, has already fallen victim to terrible traffic conditions. The city’s government has made relatively minimal progress on that front, despite indicating the issue is at a “tipping point” in August 2019.
Reducing the turnpike to three lanes and shutting down part of the commuter rail will only undo that progress and likely exacerbate commuter disruptions. The neighborhood activists and advocacy organizations that have consented to this fail to consider how revenues will fall, hurting those they’re speaking for. Fewer cars will be able to pass through tolls and fewer people will travel by rail, further constricting funding channels to taxes.
The possible addition of a temporary structure in the Charles can only worsen congestion. The justification for its existence is flawed. It was only deemed necessary in the context of this project; this structure is meant to mitigate the congestion resulting from the construction on the turnpike, which is shutting down some roads.
This is not to mention that this structure will have disastrous environmental consequences. The construction process itself will cast dust and hazardous materials into the Charles. Once it’s complete, passing cars will continuously release emissions into the surrounding area for at least 10 years. The city has already committed a great deal of money to cleaning the river; why squander that work for something that is meant to be a temporary fix?
That is, if this structure is actually temporary. To build a stable enough bridge that people will trust and last 10 years is not an easy nor cheap undertaking. If all that effort and money is used, there will be little incentive to dismantle the structure despite its obvious environmental consequences.
While in progress, the Allston project will hurt congestion. When completed, congestion will not be improved. In reconfiguring the roads, officials are simply shifting things around. Officials ought to focus on the crippled public transportation system, which will most definitely help more people get where they need to go before prioritizing Harvard’s request for even more space to gentrify.