Central Artery, Route 128 Jobs Rank as Top MA Projects

Tue January 14, 2003 - Northeast Edition

Boston’s Central Artery Project and Route 128 have been selected Massachusetts’ top transportation infrastructure projects of the 20th century by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).

Former Governor John A. Volpe also was named the state’s top public official for his advocacy of transportation development and investment.

The selections were revealed Dec. 5 at an event hosted by Construction Industries of Massachusetts — ARTBA’s state affiliate.

ARTBA conducted a national survey to help identify the top transportation infrastructure projects and public officials of the past century in all 50 states. The survey was sent to members of Congress, the nation’s governors, state transportation department heads, newspaper editors, state and local chambers of commerce executives and college history professors.

Boston’s Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel project is the largest, most complex, ambitious and technologically challenging highway project ever undertaken in the United States. Commonly referred to as “The Big Dig,” it will replace the Central Artery (I-93) with an underground expressway and extend the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) to Logan International Airport via the new Ted Williams Tunnel under Boston Harbor.

The existing roadway, built in the late 1950s to handle 75,000 vehicles a day, now carries more than 190,000 vehicles a day. The eight to 10 lanes of the new expressway will accommodate 245,000 vehicles in 2010.

Planned for completion in 2004 at an estimated cost of $14.5 billion, the Central Artery-Third Harbor Tunnel project will include 161 mi. (259 km) of highway in the 7.5-mi. (12 km) corridor, about half in tunnels.

It will provide an intermodal transportation infrastructure with links to air, sea, rail, bus and subway to support sustained economic growth. It will dramatically improve traffic flow and mobility in one of America’s oldest cities. Boston also will gain more than 260 acres (105.2 ha) of new parks and open space once the project is completed.

Route 128 was selected because of its importance to the state’s economy and for providing mobility to area motorists.

Prior to World War II, Route 128 was much like any other local road, rambling through the suburbs west of Boston. Planning and some construction of a major road through the area had started in the 1930s.

Major development between 1947 and 1956 turned Route 128 into what is considered the first circumferential roadways built around an American city and a forerunner of the by-pass approach to linking suburban communities.

The building of Route 128 served as the engine for economic development in the state and helped spur the establishment of the area’s many technology companies. It was considered home base for the “Massachusetts Miracle” of the 1980s, which saw the state enjoying unprecedented prosperity.

Route 128 today is much changed from its original form, though it continues as a stronghold of business activity and as a thoroughfare for long-distance travel. The roadway has been extensively reconstructed and forms a 65-mi. (104.6 km) arc from a major interchange in Boston’s southern suburbs to the fishing community of Gloucester on Cape Ann. It carries I-93 and U.S. 1 for short distances south of the city and is home to I-95 as its north-south path around the area.

Traffic on the heavily-used highway reaches 159,000 vehicles a day at Newton, where it connects with the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90), and registers 180,000 vehicles at Lexington and 178,000 vehicles at Waltham and Burlington.

ARTBA also recognized John A. Volpe, Massachusetts’ Republican governor from 1960-62 and 1964-69. Volpe was a distinguished political and civic leader and key figure in transportation. From 1953 to 1956, he served as the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Works.

During his tenure, most of the significant contract lettings for construction of Route 128 were accomplished. Volpe was Federal Highway Administrator in 1956-57 and appointed in 1969 by President Nixon as the nation’s second U.S. Secretary of Transportation.