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'We'll keep going': After a Mega loss, here's the latest on the Allston megaproject

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from WBUR's daily morning newsletter, WBUR Today. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, sign up here


Sheesh, even when it snows, some ski mountains can’t win.

Watch out for ice this morning and make sure to finishing shoveling before the next snowstorm drops a few more inches on us tomorrow.

(Yes, we already have a new snowfall map for Wednesday.)

To the news:

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu say she’s spoken with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg “no fewer than three times, in person” about the Allston “megaproject.” The $2 billion plan would completely overhaul and redevelop a chokepoint of roads, rails and paths by the Charles River. “Every time I see him, I feel like he has this moment where he knows it’s going to come again,” Wu said yesterday on Radio Boston. But after The Boston Globe reported that the federal government rejected Boston and MassDOT’s joint bid for a “Mega” grant befitting the megaproject, Mayor Pete might be in for another call from Wu. Here’s the latest on the massive project and what comes next:

  • Remind me, what’s in the project? A lot! The plan includes tearing down the aging viaduct that carries the Mass. Pike through Allston/Brighton, straightening out that big curve in the highway, constructing a big new transit hub called West Station and improving the nearby pedestrian/bike paths along the Charles River. The realignment of the roads would also open up an old rail yard, owned by Harvard, for redevelopment. (As the Globe noted, it’s basically the last big patch of empty land for development in Boston.)
  • What to expect: Some have called the project “Big Dig 2.” In other words, it’ll be very disruptive, with construction slated to take up to 10 years. Officials once hoped to get started as soon as this year. But with yesterday’s news, the timeline looks more uncertain. At the earliest, construction is “still years away,” according to the Globe.
  • Money, money, money: Boston and MassDOT are asking the feds for over $1.1 billion to help pay for the project. The rest of the funding — which could come from the city, state and private sources like Harvard — hasn’t been figured out yet.
  • Not taken for grant-ed: MassDOT spokeswoman Kristen Penucci told WBUR’s Stevee Chapman “it is not a surprise” the bid got rejected, given all the other projects across the nation competing for Mega grants — especially since Boston only officially settled on a final design for the Allston project last month. But this was only the first of five annual Mega grant rounds, thanks to the 2021 infrastructure law. So, the project still has more chances.
  • What’s next: MassDOT plans to refine the application and reapply as soon as next spring. “Many of these larger projects and larger grants require several years in the cycle, and many of the projects ahead of us in the queue were further along in their design and planning,” Wu told Radio Boston, adding, “We’ll keep going.”

Somerville is trying to wipe out medical debt for it residents. Earlier this month, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution to use federal COVID relief funds to cancel all medical debt for people in Somerville making up to 400% of the federal poverty rate (in other words, $58,320 a year for one person or $120,000 for households of four).

  • What’s next: The City Council is planning a hearing on Feb. 13 to get more details on the concept. If approved by Mayor Katjana Ballantyne, Somerville would be the first city in Massachusetts to cancel residents’ medical debt en masse.
  • Zoom out: Toledo, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Cook County, Illinois have all worked with the nonprofit RIP Medical Debt to devote millions to similar medical debt cancellation plans. You can read more about RIP Medical Debt’s work here.

It’s not just tech companies announcing mass layoffs. Tufts Medicine is laying off 70 workers and eliminating 170 open positions, though the cuts amount to less than 1% of its 13,000-person workforce.

  • Why? The healthcare network cited big financial challenges due to post-pandemic capacity constraints, its reliance on costly contract labor — especially for nurses — and delays discharging patients.

P.S.—  Summer ferry reservations are officially open for Martha’s Vineyard… and it looks like the Steamship Authority is having issues with their online waiting room again. Officials say it’s mostly people using Google Chrome having problems, so try another internet browser if you don’t want to spend all morning as 2,663rd in line.

Related:

Nik DeCosta-Klipa Twitter Newsletter Editor
Nik DeCosta-Klipa is the newsletter editor for WBUR.

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