Federal funding pushes Allston Mass. Pike megaproject forward, says MassDOT secretary

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A $335 million federal funding award clears a “major, major hurdle” for an infrastructure megaproject in Allston that will provide long-awaited access to the Charles River waterfront and push the state closer to a westward passenger rail expansion, a top official said Wednesday.

Transportation Secretary Monica Tibbits-Nutt touted the so-called Allston Multimodal Project as a way to achieve multiple goals at once, not limited to replacement of the viaduct that carries Interstate 90 through the region.

“It’s not just the roadway. It really, as I said, is connecting this environmental justice community, but it’s also giving people access to the waterfront, which has been a really big deal for a lot of these neighborhoods,” Tibbits-Nutt said at a MassDOT Board meeting. “They know it’s there. They just can’t see it and they just can’t access it. This project is looking to address that.”

The turnpike currently slices through a narrow stretch of land between Boston University and the river, dividing the area with an aging, elevated viaduct.

The project — whose cost could reach nearly $2 billion — aims to reorganize the knot of infrastructure by aligning the highway, Soldiers Field Road, rail tracks and a new pedestrian boardwalk side-by-side at ground level.

Plans also call for construction of a new West Station commuter rail hub for the MBTA, which would be on the Worcester/Framingham Line between the existing Lansdowne and Boston Landing stops. Project presentations describe the envisioned West Station as a three-platform, four-track stop with a layover rail yard, located just a bit northwest of BU’s Agganis Arena.

Tibbits-Nutt said the station is “incredibly important” to a proposed passenger rail expansion into western Massachusetts, often referred to as West-East or East-West Rail.

“We have a North and South Station. We’re going to finally have a West Station,” added MassDOT Board member Rick Dimino. “That’s going to be a multimodal hub that will create tremendous access to both the west side of our state, but also, to a new economic center that will be driving economic opportunities that are second to none. The gross domestic product coming from this new economic center will be over billions of dollars.”

It’s not clear how much the rail expansion project, which seeks to continue regular MBTA service beyond its current endpoint in Worcester, would cost. The federal government last year awarded $108 million toward the effort.

Tibbits-Nutt said the administration would provide more information about next steps for the Allston project “in the coming months.” She added that officials plan to conduct the required environmental review in one year, which Tibbits-Nutt suggested is out of the ordinary.

“It is very aggressive, but I do think it really speaks to the urgency of this project,” she said.

After Massachusetts officials stumbled in their first high-profile efforts to secure aid toward replacement of the Cape Cod bridges, they’ve had a bit more success on the federal funding front lately.

The Biden administration in December awarded $372 million to help replace the Sagamore Bridge, and Congressional delegation members this month said a federal appropriations bill calls for another $350 million toward replacing both spans.

Federal funding is critical to replacing the narrow bridges, which predate World War II and are regularly flooded with traffic, especially given the most recent cost estimates that surpassed $4.5 billion.

“This project very similarly has made huge leaps and bounds, really quite honestly within the last couple of months,” Tibbits-Nutt said Wednesday.

The delegation on Tuesday urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to fulfill the state’s application for $1 billion in grants through the Bridge Investment Program, calling it “the final remaining piece of the funding puzzle.” They estimated the cost of replacing just the Sagamore Bridge at $2.14 billion.

“The bridges are vital assets for the Cape Cod economy and surrounding communities, as well as essential routes for general transportation, tourism, and emergency evacuations. Built in 1933 and owned by the federal government, the Bourne and the Sagamore Bridges are the sole gateway to Cape Cod for over 35 million vehicles annually, serving as the main access point for more than 260,000 residents and over 5 million visitors,” the delegation wrote in a letter, which was circulated by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office. “However, at more than 90 years old, the bridges are suffering from structural deficiencies that present an ongoing risk to the accessibility and economic stability of the Cape Cod region.”

Tibbits-Nutt hinted that some kind of announcement related to the bridge project is around the corner.

“We are going to be signing an MOU, I do believe next week, hopefully, with the Army Corps of Engineers,” she said during Wednesday’s board meeting.

State and Army Corps officials signed a memorandum of understanding in July 2020 laying out intentions to work together to replace the Bourne and Sagamore bridges. The agreement called for the Corps to retain ownership and management of the bridges during construction and demolition, then transfer ownership of the new spans to the state.

A MassDOT spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the new memorandum of understanding.

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