Freshgate Tunnel

Financial questions:

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Does Harvard take over any public property?

This drawing does show some places where Harvard might be allowed to build above streets owned by the City of Boston, most notably above the proposed cut-and cover tunnel of North Harvard Street in Allston between Harvard Business School and their athletic area, but also above parts of Western Ave and Cambridge Street in Allston.

Otherwise, in this drawing there is one and only one area where it is suggested that Harvard be given a very long-term lease of public parkland: only upon the public land that is presently the roadway intersection along the north end of the Soldiers Field (not any of the existing pedestrian land there).

The notion here is that Harvard may feel these two particular parcels of land - atop the north end of North Harvard Street, and at the north end of Soldiers Field - are exceptionally desirable for their campus expansion (for instance additional undergraduate campus) because both are especially near Harvard Square. Harvard may be willing to consider undertaking many projects for the public benefit in exchange for permission to build new campuses in these locations.

Soldiers Field Road between the Herter Center/William E. Smith Playground, the Anderson Bridge and the Eliot Bridge is a special condition of this drawing. The campus shown on the drawing keeps all new buildings behind the edge of the present roadway, so that no land presently for non auto use is lost - only land that is presently used as road way and median strips. Harvard would be permitted to build a new campus on this land only after making formal agreements with the public sector like the following:

  • All lawns and paths would be public ways. The public can sunbathe, picnic, play Frisbee, have pets, take a nap, and just be there.
  • Harvard would either finance the maintenance or simply maintain this part of the public park system.
  • Harvard would relocate at least one of their museums there - for instance the Peabody and Natural History Museums with glass flowers and dinosaurs - and would make this relocated museum free to the public.
  • Harvard would build a performance area there, with a certain minimum number of free public performances annually.
  • Harvard would build an addition to their library system there, and it would be open to the public. (Presently, while MIT's libraries are open to the public, Harvard's are not.)
  • Harvard would build and maintain community tutoring facilities and programs there, perhaps run with the Phillips Brooks house and other local non-profits. The programs might also be for mentoring or counseling neighborhood people. Parts of Harvard's Extension School could also be relocated there.
  • The drawing shows underground access to an enormous underground parking lot beneath the Harvard athletic fields and this proposed new campus. Harvard would make a significant part of this parking lot free for the public and provide free shuttle-van service to surrounding places. (Incidentally, this underground parking lot also provides all vehicular services to the buildings above.)
  • Harvard would maintain a reasonably priced, publicly accessible food-court in one of their new buildings, and of course a coffee shop (with comfortable seats and internet access).
  • However possible, Harvard would make this part of their campus particularly welcoming of the public and would participate in a public yearly review with the public of how they were doing.

On the other hand, if Harvard wanted to build one or two new undergraduate Houses in this area, perhaps fenced enclosures of up to two smaller quadrangles could be negotiated. (Harvard's undergraduate Houses in Cambridge are often organized around an enclosed yard: There are two pairs of buildings shown on the drawing that would lend themselves to this possibility - both just to the west of the large central lawn that is aligned with Longfellow Park in Cambridge (aligned with the western one of the two new pedestrian bridges shown across the Charles).
Further, Harvard currently owns almost enough land between four existing athletic buildings (Blodgett, Briggs, Dillon, and Palmer-Dixon) and Soldiers Field Road to comfortably build several residential or academic buildings there. But the new buildings would be unpleasant without Soldiers Field Road being removed. Two of the existing athletic buildings have no windows facing the Charles, and only one – the Dillon Field House – is a pleasant sight from the Cambridge side. This is an obvious place for additional campus buildings. Diagrammatic building outlines were shown at this location in the drawing.
In total the drawing shows the potential for 30 new campus buildings between the Eliot Bridge and the Business School, either academic or housing, totaling a little over 1. 5 million square feet, if the average building were four stories high with one basement level.

Are there any other things required of Harvard?

This is only one vision of many.
If Harvard's leaders were eager to build this tunnel they might be willing to make certain other concessions. They might agree to a very long moratorium on new construction and land acquisition in parts of Cambridge, Allston, Brighton and around the Medical School. Harvard has faced the specter of such restrictions, has even proposed building moratoriums in parts of Cambridge, and has already entered into agreements to limit their growth for specified time lengths in parts of Cambridge. (For instance in a recent agreement between Harvard and the Riverside neighborhood of Cambridge, Harvard agreed to growth limits in that neighborhood for the next 25 years. Harvard has also just made a similar agreement with the Agassiz neighborhood of Cambridge.)
There may be other things that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, cities, non-profits, or neighborhoods in Cambridge or Boston might request. One obvious example: Harvard University already makes annual payments to both the City of Boston and the City of Cambridge; each is called a "Payment in Lieu of Taxes" (PILOT for short). The amount of their PILOT payment could of course be renegotiated, but there may be more important things to request.

How much might a tunnel like this cost?

Difficult question. Since the initial cost estimates of the Big Dig proved to be off by a factor of four, who would trust anyone's estimate of this? Still, if the tunnel costs $1 million per foot then the whole thing might cost over $17 billion. If the tunnel costs $1 million per yard then the total cost would be over $5 billion, and if the per yard cost were $333,333 , then the final bill might be $1.7 billion. The higher figure seems more likely.

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