Driving in Boston – What $14.6 Billion Dollars Buys

As a resident of the fast growing suburbs of Northern Virginia there is little in the way of traffic that can shake a jaded occasional commuter like me. I’ve been in Boston for the last couple days and have noticed some improvement with the partial opening of some of the Big Dig project.

My first indication that something had changed was taking a cab out of Logan to my downtown hotel. On the way through the Frozen Hitting Legend Tunnel (Ted Williams) I spotted a SUV ahead of us. I asked the taxi driver how that person was able to use the tunnel, since the last time I was in Boston ( a few weeks prior to 9/11) the tunnel was for commercial vehicles only. He told me the tunnel was now open to anyone willing to pay the $4.50 toll, and that the extension to Mass Pike was open. My head spun in amazement at the possibilities this opened up. As an employee of a outer beltway tech company I used to leave the office 3 hours before my flight. Remember this was pre 9/11 when you could get to most airport 30 minutes before your flight and be fine…

The little strech of road from Mass Pike getting onto 93, then into the Sumner Tunnel (I know it is called something like the Callahan Tunnel going towards the airport – but I call it the Sumner Tunnel in both directions) was the closest thing to a permanent gridlock situation I’d ever seen. It almost didn’t matter what time you went It was always an adventure. At rush hour – forget it, but even non rush hour you just never knew what the $14.6 billion dollars of the Big Dig was going to do to your driving experience.

There is a flowery Washington Post article on the benefits now being seen by Boston commuters. What the don’t tell you is that when new sections open all hell breaks loose as people careen into one another since now no one knows where they are going. Another item that seems to be missing from most reports is that all of the money spent on the Big Dig seems to have done absolutely nothing to ease congestion in downtown Boston. Sure traffic has been rerouted and nice new tunnels have replaced older elevated and non elevated roadways, but to my eye I did not notice the “LA effect” – namely throwing more lanes at the problem. Traffic jams on northbound 93 are still visible at rush hour, and 93 southbound is not done yet so I’m sure it still sucks. Much of the traffic getting onto 93 to go to Logan now uses the Mass Pike extension and the Frozen Hitting Legend Tunnel, but is that really worth $14.6 billion dollars? I think you could have paid every man woman and child in the Boston metro area to use rapid transit for the last 20 years and still have spent a lot less.

I really have no conclusion about the Big Dig, it is nice that it is providing some traffic relief, but the fact that it is sooooo expensive and will probably be out of date before it is finished is not in my opinion a lasting legacy. The lasting legacy is that this big government project was sink hole that ran over budget every time they revised the budget ( I think it started at $2 billion dollars).

One tidbit I learned from my cab driver:
The cost of the section of I-90 recently completed ($6.5 billion for 2.5 miles of road) exceed the cost of building the entire length of I-90 from Boston to Seattle.

Update: Jay Solo check’s in with a local’s perspective in the comments and at his blog. The last sentace of the original post now references I-90, not I-93. For the record we are both correct on the tolls. Non-comercial traffic is $3, but it will cost you $4.50 if you are in a cab. Toll information.

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