People’s Pike October 2020 Letter to Secretary Pollack

People’s Pike October 2020 Letter to Secretary Pollack

October 30, 2020

Secretary Stephanie Pollack
Massachusetts Department of Transportation 10 Park Plaza, Room 4160
Boston, MA 02116

Dear Secretary Pollack:

The decade of construction and final result of the Allston Multimodal Project will have lasting impacts on every community between Boston and Worcester. It will change how people travel on the Commuter Rail, on I-90, and on local streets and paths. It will also change the quality of life and health for nearby residents, and the ecology and accessibility of the Charles River.

We recognize the significant challenges and complexities this project presents and your urgency to move forward. In this spirit, we recommend that you advance the project for environmental review in the following ways:

1. Select the ​Modified All At-Grade Option​ as the ​Preferred Alternative ​because it works for all modes of transportation and yields long-term benefits for the adjacent community, for commuters, for the river and parks, and the environment.

We reiterate our opposition to the Highway Viaduct, both the no-build option to repair the existing viaduct or the build option to construct a new Modified Highway Viaduct. We agree with the September 23 letter from BPDA Director Golden and Chief Osgood that the All At-Grade option is the right choice to leave a lasting positive legacy for Boston and the region. The All At-Grade option merits the most focus over the year ahead with detailed analyses about ways to minimize impacts to the Charles River.

The ​Modified All At-Grade Option​ has many advantages over the other alternatives, including the following:

  • Only the All At-Grade option relieves the toll payers on the Mass Pike and the taxpayers across the State from the very expensive burden of maintaining, repairing and eventually replacing a lengthy viaduct—a cost we are all bearing today.
  • While each option seeks to address the noise from the thousands of cars and trucks that can be heard across sections of Allston, Brookline, and Cambridge, only the All At-Grade option eliminates the additional noise generated by cars and especially trucks accelerating up and braking down the slope of an elevated viaduct, and takes away the raised platform from which this noise is projected.
  • It is the best choice to connect Boston and Brookline to the Charles River. It improves the urban design and development potential of the entire project area and it has the most support of any option under consideration both from the Allston residents who are most impacted by the highway and the hundreds of people from across the region who have voiced a preference during years of comment periods and public meetings.

2. Prioritize transit-centered mitigation and build for a transit-centered future.

A strong mitigation plan will benefit Metrowest residents and people living and working in Allston, Brookline, and Cambridge as well. A construction mobility plan focused on improved rail and bus services, with increased parking at suburban locations, is needed to provide realistic alternatives for the commuters who will be impacted by the reduction in turnpike capacity during construction and reduce cut-through traffic that threatens to overwhelm roads in Allston, Brighton, Newton, Cambridge, Brookline, and beyond if drivers seek routes around the Allston interchange during construction. MassDOT should identify when I-90 lane closures will begin and what transit improvements can be implemented before this impact occurs. Additionally, it is important to ensure that two Worcester Line tracks and six Turnpike lanes are available for peak travel throughout construction. Increased transit service during and after construction, along with other mitigation measures, must be binding and not subject to negotiation with the contractor.

Transit enhancements are supported by and benefit all stakeholders. We strongly recommend building a four track, three platform West Station as soon as possible in the construction process. In this project, MassDOT is currently not planning to include reconstruction of the Grand Junction Rail Bridge crossing the Charles River to accommodate two-track service. Extension of passenger service to Cambridge and beyond using the Grand Junction corridor is an important future project that will serve the Commonwealth’s economic development, climate change, and mode shift goals. Completion of a two-track bridge over Soldiers Field Road for the Grand Junction (Little Grand Junction Bridge) as part of this project is an important next step toward implementing this service, while also providing space for extension of the Paul Dudley White Path under the rail bridge and removing a segment of the path out of the narrow river channel.

3. Take a holistic approach to resilient design to fortify the Charles River, Allston neighborhood, and beyond from the impacts of climate change.

Recent comments by MassDOT suggest the agency views the highway viaduct as the most resilient option because of its elevation above future stormwater flooding. However, flooding is only one component of the many interrelated effects of climate change. The biggest contribution the Allston Multimodal project can make toward the Commonwealth’s ambitious carbon reduction goals and climate resilience is to encourage commuters to reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips by prioritizing high-functioning, affordable mass transit options during and after construction.

A resilient design for the I-90 Multimodal project is one that prioritizes the health and needs of neighboring environmental justice communities that have been disproportionately affected by the existing I-90 highway, provides access to parkland to neighboring communities to support neighborhood health, maximizes tree canopy and minimizes impervious surface to mitigate heat effects, improves the water quality and ecology of the Charles River, considers the carbon footprint to build and maintain transportation infrastructure, and address flooding by providing green stormwater infrastructure storage and treatment. ​​These objectives are best achieved by the Modified All At-Grade Option.

To explore how all of these elements can be achieved within the Modified All At-Grade plan, several of the below signed organizations have been working with landscape architects and urban planners at Perkins&Will and CBT (please see the attached document for more details about the variety of strategies and design approaches that should be evaluated to find the best solution). ​The ecological restoration strategies suggested by ​Perkins&Will and CBT​ for the I-90 project build off the Charles River Riverbank Vegetation Management Plan (RVMP) that has been adopted by other state agencies. If MassDOT adopts similar strategies for this project it will lead to a healthier river system and a more holistic rejuvenation of the river and river banks.

The river and public access must be protected during construction to safeguard the incredible public and private investment in the river over the last three decades. Mitigation measures must be thoroughly and transparently considered for each alternative in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement to ensure the least harm and most benefit to this important regional resource.

The existing Allston neighborhoods north and south of the Pike and the new neighborhood that will rise in Beacon Park must be walkable and bikeable neighborhoods with better connections to the Charles River. This can be accomplished with:

  • Footbridges to the river at Agganis Way and at the Commonwealth Ave and Boston University Bridge nexus.
  • A linear buffer park that connects the Agganis Footbridge and a new Franklin Street Footbridge.
  • A widened Paul Dudley White Path with separate biking and walking paths that are integrated as part of the reconstituted river’s edge and potentially on a boardwalk or elevated path where necessary.
  • Improved conditions for the edge of the river esplanade complementing the Magazine Beach across the river, and remediation of the current degraded condition of the river bank, and contaminated runoff that now flows untreated into the Charles River.
  • The new local streets being designed as part of this project should be designed for the City of Boston speed limit with as few lanes as possible to accommodate projected traffic, cycling, and parking requirements.

All of these improvements are essential mitigation for the highway elements of the project, and must receive a firm commitment as integral components of the Allston Multimodal Project.

4. Continue, expand, and improve the project’s advisory process.

While not always a perfect process, the existing Task Force has been an invaluable outlet for community members, impacted stakeholders, and MassDOT to communicate directly with each other about this project. An advisory process should be established and maintained for the entire duration of the project in the following ways:

  • Continue the Allston Multimodal Project Task Force through the completion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement, the certification by the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs and Massachusetts Environmental Policy Office that the project meets all state environmental requirements, the completion of all environmental permitting, and the filing of the federal Record of Decision.
  • Convene a Construction Mitigation Group immediately. Such a committee is essential for this project to provide guidance on the mitigation plan; oversight of construction mitigation measures, including noise, air, and vibration impacts; traffic disruption; and interim public transportation measures during the lengthy construction period. This group should include stakeholders from MetroWest as well as members of the Allston, Brookline and Cambridge communities, and those focused on the interests of the river.
  • Establish an Environmental and Design Oversight Committee for the duration of construction. The Big Dig had an effective oversight committee throughout the construction phase, ensuring that environmental project commitments were accomplished substantially as approved. Allston and Brookline contain state-designated environmental justice populations. The advisory committee should include a majority of individuals from the environmental justice population and representatives who are most directly impacted by the project.
  • Create a Working Group on Charles River Restoration and Climate Resiliency. Effective rebuilding and restoration of the edge of the Charles River that considers climate change impacts will require significant involvement of agencies outside of MassDOT, including the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Department of Environmental Protection, including its Waterways and Wetlands Sections, and the Army Corps of Engineers. In addition, advocacy organizations and private groups representing the boating community, park and pathway users, and the health and ecology of the river and its watershed should be an integral part of this Working Group, which will have a major set of tasks to identify, analyze, and decide on the best future of this valuable regional resource.

Taking a comprehensive approach that begins with an All At-Grade throat that minimizes impacts to the Charles River, ensures a strong mitigation plan for the Allson and MetroWest communities, and repairs the damage the highway and viaducts have caused to the nearby residents and the Charles River over the last 50 years is necessary and achievable.

We look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure the success of this project.


350 MA Transportation Working Group
A Better City
Allston Brighton CDC
Allston Civic Association
Allston Brighton Health Collaborative
Boston Cyclists Union
Boston Society for Architecture
Brookline GreenSpace Alliance
Cambridge Redevelopment Authority
Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association
Charles River Conservancy
Conservation Law Foundation
Friends of Leverett Pond, Brookline
Kendall Square Association
LivableStreets Alliance
Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition
Massachusetts Sierra Club
Pioneer Institute
Transit Matters
Worcester Chamber of Commerce
Harry Mattison, Allston resident and I-90 Task Force Member
Jessica Robertson, Allston resident and I-90 Task Force Member
Fred Yaloris, Cambridge resident and I-90 Task Force Member

Attachments (combined as one PDF):

●  City of Boston letter
●  Boston City Council resolution
●  City of Cambridge letter
●  Cambridge City Council resolution
●  Town of Brookline letter
●  I-90 Allston Interchange Riverfront Analysis and Design Exploration Presentation

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