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State Transit Model May Have Skewed Ridership Figures For West Station

The shuttered Beacon Park Rail Yard is poised to eventually house West Station and 50 acres of developable land for Harvard once the Massachusetts Turnpike is realigned.

A planned Boston transportation hub that was delayed until 2040 may arrive earlier than planned after Massachusetts officials said a state transit model may not be reliable with its ridership projections. 

When Massachusetts transportation officials announced in late 2017 they would delay completion of the West Station component of a $1B overhaul of the Massachusetts Turnpike Allston interchange, transit advocates chided the move as being short-sighted. The station was expected to be the transportation centerpiece in ongoing redevelopment around the shuttered Beacon Park Rail Yard, but the state cited low ridership as why it was delaying plans for the rail and bus terminal. 

Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack signaled at a June 27 meeting that she agrees with skeptics that the projected ridership may have been skewed, Commonwealth Magazine reports

The state report to delay West Station relied on a Central Transportation Planning Staff model that projected 250 daily commuter rail riders and 2,900 bus riders from West Station in 2040. Members of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board as well as transit advocates said the ridership forecast was inconsistent with how congested traffic already is in the neighborhood. Pollack said the state now plans to utilize two new models for ridership projections, but she cautioned the CTPS model is crucial in landing federal funding for the state’s biggest transportation projects. 

The model was used in landing $1B in federal funds for the Green Line extension into Somerville and Medford. Its ridership projections were also said to be what convinced Gov. Charlie Baker to pursue a South Coast Rail project into Fall River and New Bedford. 

Work on West Station as a commuter rail facility could not begin any earlier than 2025 due to the property being used as a construction staging area for the Mass Pike straightening, Pollack said. She said any delays should not be mistaken for a lack of interest in pursuing the project.   

Even before Pollack signaled the state was considering a new model to base its building timeline of West Station, Harvard pledged $8M toward an interim station. The university, which owns most of the land opened by the Mass Pike realignment and is developing what some have speculated is an innovation district within Allston, has already committed $50M toward the final form of West Station.