A breakdown in transportation theory

Traffic was tied up in knots for a few hours yesterday in Methuen, Massachusetts from a rather nasty traffic accident on Interstate 495 South. I haven’t found any accounts online, but from what I heard on the radio, a pickup truck rear-ended a tractor trailer parked in the breakdown lane, and the pickup’s driver was killed.

This reminds me of what HAS to be one of the most criminally insane policies in Massachusetts — quite possibly worse than re-electing Ted Kennedy and John Kerry.

Every day, there are a LOT of people who drive into Boston in the morning, and out in the evening. More than the highways can reasonably handle. I’m most familiar with the northbound traffic, so I’ll address that.

I-93 runs the length of New Hampshire, right down the center, and goes through Boston. Most mornings the traffic starts picking up about 10 miles short of the border, and clogs up at various points between there and the city. It’s only 2 lanes here in New Hampshire, but widens to 3 at the state line and 4 halfway to Beantown. But that’s still not enough.

Some time ago, some genius looked at the highways and saw a hunk of underused asphalt alongside the road, put two and two together, and came up with “rutabega.” And thus was born that grand innovation of commuting, the “active breakdown lane.”

Between 7 and 10 in the morning on weekdays, it’s perfectly legal to drive along in the breakdown lane if you’re heading into Boston on I-93. And between 3 and 7 in the evenings, the same is true heading out of the city. There are spots where it’s not allowed, most notably near onramps, but the signs are universally ignored.

So, what happens if — God forbid — you should blow a tire or overheat or for whatever reason find you need to stop? Hope like hell that you can limp to one of the few and far between points where a second breakdown lane is laid out, a pull-off that ought to be safe. Otherwise, pull over, get out of the car, and get as far away from the road as possible until help arrives.

Now, I don’t know if yesterday’s crash was related to this policy. Although it was during the time when driving in the breakdown lane is permitted on I-93, this accident happened on I-495, about seven miles from where they meet. However, it’s not unheard of on 495. Hell, I’ve seen it done in New Hampshire, and it’s NEVER legal up here.

I’ve been aware of this policy of Massachusetts for years, and thought it was insane from day one. But the fact that there haven’t been more horrendous accidents like this one seems, to me at least, proof of the old saying that “God looks out for fools, drunkards, and children” — and Massachusetts has the first two in abundance.

Hoist by his own F-Stop
Two wrongs don't equal a jackpot


  1. Mike October 5, 2005
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