FOR SEVERAL YEARS, state transportation officials have raised objection after objection to the at-grade option for the narrow throat section of the I-90 Allston project running between Boston University and the Charles River.
It was too expensive. It threatened the Charles River. It was an engineering impossibility.
The Baker administration’s frustration reached an all-time high last November when former transportation secretary Stephanie Pollack raised the possibility of just rebuilding a crumbling elevated section of the Turnpike and putting off action on the rest of the project for at least 5 to 10 years.
But then President Biden took office and Pollack took off to Washington to serve in the Federal Highway Administration. Jamey Tesler, who had been running the Registry of Motor Vehicles, was brought in to replace her. Not long afterward, the tone of the administration shifted.
At a meeting in June with stakeholders on the I-90 Allston project, state Highway Commissioner Jonathan Gulliver said he wanted to see if consensus could be reached on the at-grade approach and asked for help in squeezing all of the transportation elements into the narrow space. On Wednesday, he said he had worked it out.
Tesler suddenly has brought clarity to a project and a debate that for a long time seemed to be on a road going nowhere. In his first lengthy interview on the subject, the secretary said the shift in thinking was the result of a combination of listening to what the public wants and trying to seize the opportunity to secure funds for the project from an infrastructure bill pending in Congress.
“We have heard people loud and clear what they want to have happen here,” Tesler said.
The transportation secretary said the Department of Transportation has always tried to review the various options for the throat section objectively, examining the pros and cons.
“What’s changed is, as a team, we’ve both seen the feedback that we’ve gotten, and it’s been relatively clear and strong and consistent as to what people in the community want, and we have to take that into consideration,” he said. “The second thing is we also see an opportunity now, with the potential for other funding. And we want to be in a position where we are having the hard conversations we need to have so we have a funding plan that works and don’t miss the window to take advantage of federal money that comes forward.”
Tesler said the possibility of landing federal money is an opportunity that can’t be missed. “Right now what we see is an opportunity for a funding plan that leads to all of the things that this big project needs. And we don’t want to continue to lose time,” he said.