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The tunnel is backed all the way up

Entrance to Sumner Tunnel in the mid-1940s

North End tunnel entrance all clogged up. See it larger.

After World War II, the East Boston Traffic Tunnel, also known as the Sumner Tunnel, was often gridlocked - being the only direct car route between Boston Proper and East Boston. The photo is from a 1947 report by a rapid-transit commission established by the state legislature, and has this caption:

This typical congestion will undoubtedly increase with the accelerated postwar production of automobiles. To attempt to route additional public transport vehicles through this tunnel would further add to the problem. Much of the congestion can be relieved by an extended and improved rapid transit system. Good public transportation would result in many of these cars remaining in their garages as the owners would undoubtedly make use of the improved rapid transit facilities.

In modern terms, the commission proposed a series of expansions that included an Orange Line running from Dedham to Reading, via Readville, a Red Line from Braintree to Lexington, a new Green Line branch to Needham via Riverside and an extension from Lechmere to Woburn and a Blue Line between Bowdoin and Lynn (the Globe's Emily Sweeney has posted a map of the proposed expanded system and wrote about what happened to the plan).

The proposal also called for incorporating subway tracks in the construction of a new bridge across the Mystic River to Chelsea - a bridge that would eventually be named for the governor at the time, Maurice Tobin.

The commission was so optimistic about all the people who would ride the new system - once it was taken over by a state agency from the old Boston Elevated Railway company - that it said cities and towns could yank up all those annoying trolley tracks clogging up thoroughfares like Mass. Ave. in Cambridge:

Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge with trolleys

The Red Line, of course, was extended to Braintree and, if not to Lexington, at least the Arlington line. The Green Line now runs to Riverside. But the Orange Line, although relocated, still terminates at Forest Hills and no subway tracks were ever laid on the Tobin - people who want to take rapid transit to Chelsea can take a bus that is frequently delayed because it goes over a drawbridge across busy Chelsea Creek.

Boston Harbor, meanwhile, now has three tunnels for cars and trucks - the Callahan opened in 1961 and the Ted Williams to trucks and cabs in 1995 and to cars in 2003.



I always thought both the Sunmer and Callahan opened at the same time. I never knew they used to have one lane in each direction in the narrow Sumner. Yikes!

there were times when one tunnel was temporarily closed for construction, and the other was made two-way.

I don't know if that is still feasible today, as the Big Dig relocated the tunnel entrances and exits away from the North End.


The ends of the Sumner/Callahan are exactly where they had been pre-Big Dig. The connections to them have been reworked, so there's not two-way traffic right in front of each. I'm sure it's physically feasible to run two-way in one tube or the other, but might not be logistically worth it (closing or reversing other roads/ramps) to create the situation.

There's no reason to do it today, since the Ted is an alternate route.

There is no exit from I-93 south to the Ted (I-90 east).

Great reminder that traffic congestion has pretty much always existed, it was well known that reliable public transit could mitigate this and our solution was to rip up streetcar networks and replace with travel lanes and car storage. Awesome.


I have the official map of the track and station layout, similar to the one posted by the Globe. You can get a print done at Ward Maps in Cambridge. I just look at it and go 'what could have been"

I am sure it would have solved alot of our issues, and I am sure Boston would have grown differently. Maybe we wouldnt have needed the big dig....

We still havent learned. Just attend a public meeting about anything transit related, especially in towns where there's not alot of pro transit movement. You'll wanna hang yourself as you'll quickly see why we're in the state we are in today.



Cars keep getting more comfortable while public transit reaches new depths of discomfort. Even if the T was free and quick there'd still be a pretty sizable portion of the population who would rather spend twice as long in traffic and snubbing their noise at the "filth" on the trains.

Looking at the old maps is enough to make someone cry. To add further insult much of the original trolly system is still there, buried under 3" of asphalt, taunting us when exposed in a pothole. Meanwhile it cost billions and 20 years to extend a dinky trolly a few miles line along existing right of way.


"These numbers suggest that people will choose transit if it’s more convenient than driving."


We are talking over 10 years ago, so no, I don't have the source. The authors looked at transit utilization, and one of the main drivers was parking costs. The Globe's recent spotlight piece uses that as one of their main points. In a place like the Puget Sound region (where I was driving in the recent past and was not happy with the experience) people will drive even in horrible traffic because the up front costs (in terms of parking and perhaps gas) are acceptable as opposed to riding on a bus.

And also all the jobs that could be created by the street cars and extra public transportation.

However , it is worth noting that most of the trolley lines still exist today just as bus routes.

I'm not convinced we'd have a dramatically different transit system today even had those grandiose postwar plans come to fruition. The Boston area, like much of the Rust Belt, went through an extended economic decline due to an exodus of manufacturing jobs -- this finally reversed with the Massachusetts Miracle in the 1980s. That particular boom was concentrated in the suburbs along major highways like 128, 495, 2, and the Pike. Demographic trends (including white flight) favored the suburbs and better/more affordable/more modern office space helped to enable the growth of the tech industry.

The T faced frequent financial difficulty in the 1970s and often reduced service due to tight budgets. I think many of those extended lines would have truncated due to low ridership -- just as several commuter train lines were truncated or discontinued by failing railroad companies.

The Big Dig would still have been necessary in one form or another. The old elevated highway was in dire need of replacement and 93 was and is a vital link in the regional transportation network, especially with the airport being across the harbor from downtown. The removal of the eyesore/barrier created by the elevated highway has absolutely transformed the downtown core and made it a more attractive place to work, live, and visit.

By ScottB on Thu, 11/28/2019 - 9:42pm.
In the historical context
I'm not convinced we'd have a dramatically different transit system today even had those grandiose postwar plans come to fruition. The Boston area, like much of the Rust Belt, went through an extended economic decline due to an exodus of manufacturing jobs -- this finally reversed with the Massachusetts Miracle in the 1980s

You were close -- except there was no correlation to the Rust Belt decline and the reversal wasn't due to the so-called Massachusetts Miracle. I don't presume to know the full story -- its full of many twists and turns. However, I've been an interested observer and sometimes participant in the story for nearly 60 years -- so I think I've got some bits in hand.

Here's a bit of the context of the fall and rise of Boston and the rise of Greater Boston:

The decline in Massachusetts manufacturing was almost exclusively in terms of footwear and textiles -- those were the Big Industries in Massachusetts and their decline started with the advent of electricity knocking out the Mill Cities [textiles] and Post WWII cheap off-shore labor kayoed footwear manufacturing although not all the companies left -- some survived as HQ's.[e.g. New Balance, Converse and even Strideright]. Boston's stagnation was mostly due to the Great Depression both in terms of direct financial losses [huge] and the secondary effects of the loss of the Textile Industry to the south.

Logistically and Infrastructuraly -- The rebound began with the construction of RT-128 allowing large-scale development of Industrial Parks outside of the stagnating city. Simultaneously, Rt-128 provided the opportunity for the many thousands of returning WWII Vets [Greatest Generation] to start a new life with a home and a yard for a family [Baby Boomers], dogs, growing up in suburbs like Lexington, Burlington, Winchester, Weston, etc.

However while the highways were important -- much of what enabled Rt-128 as in "Rt-128 America's Technology Highway" to grow explosively in the 1950's and 1960's -- which predated the "Mass Miracle" and incidentally also "Silicon Valley" by several decades-- flowed out of MIT and the True Miracle -- Vanevar Bush and the Radiation Lab at MIT aka Building 20.

At end of WWII -- the Radiation Lab --- incidentally whose staff were rewarded by more Nobel Prizes than the Manhattan Project staff -- begat the MIT Research Lab for Electronics and eventually Lincoln Lab and indirectly led to Raytheon [in its modern form] and Digital Equipment Corporation and others less well known. These companies and their offspring and cousins such as Data General, Wang, Analog Devices, Analogic and subsequent generations of electronics companies and Polaroid [a strange cousin] a few other strange cousins [e.g. Avco, GTE Sylvania] in turn created thousands of jobs along the various highways -- manufacturing things from Spacecraft Heat Shields [AVCO -- Textron] to radar-guided anti-aircraft and anti-missile missiles [Raytheon], eventually lots of telecommunications and networking equipment [many] and of course mini-computers by the thousands [DEC, etc.].

The Highway Building boom then continued with the Turnpike and its extension into Boston and outside with the Big I-93, I-495 and somewhat smaller Rt-2, Rt-3 providing virgin territory for the Rt-128 to morph into "Rt-128 America's Technology Region" about the time of the so-called Mass Miracle. The myraid of Industrial Parks spread along these highways also attracted external competitors such as RCA, Sun Microsystems, eventually Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, etc.

Meanwhile the Insurance Companies [John Hancock, New England Life, Liberty Mutual, etc.] grew rapidly with the demand from the Baby Boomers and their parents [the Greatest Generation] and a whole new financial industry pop-ed-up created by a Massachusetts invention from the 20's called the Mutual Fund*1 --- these regenerated a static and moribund Financial District along with the demand for financial and legal services to serve the burgeoning electronics companies.

In the same way that we owed most of the Massachusetts growth and dynamism in the 1980's and 1990's to the Radiation Lab and WWII -- we owe much of the growth and dynamism of the Massachusetts economy today to the Cold War, the Human Genome Project, Nixon's War on Cancer, and the Apollo Moon Project. The Cold War drove the creation of computers which enabled the Human Genome Project [about 1/3 of which occurred in Kendall Square]. The War on Cancer led to MIT's huge boom in biology at the cell, virus and molecular level -- leading to the Human Genome Project. The Moon Project leveled a lot of old industrial buildings [many of which were still functioning circa 1960] for the NASA Electronics Center [see RT-128] and then Lyndon Johnson "stole the money" for his NASA Manned Space Center [aka "Houston Tranquility Base -- the Eagle has landed" ] leaving an empty field which enabled the modern Kendall Square ["the Future Lives Here"] where hundreds of companies are endeavoring to convert bio-tech into bio-profit [e.g. Biogen, etc.]. These native Bio-pharma companies and some Big Pharma outsiders who moved in [e.g. Novartis, Phizer] and bought-in [e.g. Sanofi, Takeada, etc.] proved the ground in Kendall for other big name outsiders [e.g. Google. Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Boeing, Schlumberger, IBM possibly Appple, etc.] not directly connected with Bio -- who either dropped down fully formed or bought-in through local start-ups][ e.g. Boeing].

By the way -- we wouldn't be having an on-going discussion about the Seaport District and Transit without the Ted Williams Tunnel being built through the Seaport to Logan and the Big Dig connecting I-93/95 with I-90, Of course Fidelity and some greedy men in the persons of Anthony Athanas and Frank H. McCourt Jr provided a very useful function aggregating disparate odd tracts of land over a few decades -- but that's for another time.

Finally -- we have to think where the next phase of growth is going to come from and try to see if we can be prepared for where it wants to go in its quest to once again remake the Massachusetts economy --- an on-going center of innovation for almost 400 years. My money is on AI, Robotics and Nano-tech all currently centered in Cambridge in Kendall Square although the roboticists are also proliferating in the suburban parks left behind by the minicomputer and telecom / network equipment companies.

Mutual Fund

The creation of the Massachusetts Investors' Trust in Boston, heralded the arrival of the modern mutual fund in 1924. The fund was opened to investors in 1928, eventually spawning the mutual fund firm known today as MFS Investment Management. State Street Investors' Trust was the custodian of the Massachusetts Investors' Trust. Later, State Street started its own fund in 1924 with Richard Paine, Richard Saltonstall and Paul Cabot at the helm. Saltonstall was also affiliated with Scudder, Stevens and Clark, an outfit that would launch the first no-load fund in 1928. A momentous year in the history of the mutual fund, 1928 also saw the launch of the Wellington Fund, which was the first mutual fund to include stocks and bonds, as opposed to direct merchant-bank style of investments in business and trade.

Glad we fixed this by quadrupling tunnel capacity across the harbor! Now there are never backups!


The cars today are half the size too!

...once and for all!


The Ted did reduce rush hour backups through the old tunnels.

Until they took down the Sumner toll booth last year, and the efficient merging at low speeds was disrupted. Now it's a mess on the highway as well as all over the neighborhood.

Isn't Eastie considered part of "Boston Proper" considering the city limits encompass Eastie?

I've always thought "Boston Proper" was basically the original parts of Boston - so Beacon Hill, the North End, downtown, the West End, maybe Back Bay and the South End. So under that definition, Roslindale isn't Boston Proper, either.


Much of the congestion can be relieved by an extended and improved rapid transit system. Good public transportation would result in many of these cars remaining in their garages as the owners would undoubtedly make use of the improved rapid transit facilities.

Surely not Stephanie "there is no statewide congestion crisis" Pollack.


for what might have been

In 1927, the Red Line had trains every 2 minutes at rush hour, and every 3 minutes the rest of the day.

Today the combined portion has trains scheduled every 4.5 minutes at peak, which means every 9 minutes on the branches. And the "modern" signal system can't even handle this sorry schedule, resulting in stop-and-go traffic, train bunching, and a big train traffic jam getting into Alewife.


Love the comparisons without context

If you are going to make a comparison between the 1927 Red Line and the 2019 Red Line schedules and such please note some of the differences between the two systems:

  1. 1927 Red Line
    1. Harvard Square only to a single destination at Ashmont -- route distance of 9.1 mi [to modern Harvard Square Station]
    2. Trains consisted of a few coaches [2 to 4] with many fewer seats and fewer doors
    3. route not including yards and access to yards -- 9.1 mi
    4. Total distance exclusive of Yards, Yard Access Tracks -- 9.1 mi [Ashmont to Modern Harvard Square Station]*1
  2. 2019 Red Line
    1. Alewife to either
      1. Ashmont --route unchanged except for introduction of switches and such associated with Braintree Branch and of course extension to Alewife -- route distance 11.7 mi
      2. Braintree -- all new route from JFK / UMass south as well as Harvard - Alewife extension route distance 17.6
    2. 6 Car trains often accommodated by lengthening existing Red Line Station Platforms
    3. Total distance 29.3 mi [exclusive of Yards, Yard Access Tracks -- 9.1 mi [Ashmont to Alewife Station & Braintree to Alewife Station]*1


Subway Operations -- Red Line Red Line Route Description
Route 931_ - Alewife-Ashmont Station
Route 933_ - Alewife-Braintree Station

C'mon adam, don't fall for the lazy language of equating gridlock with congestion. Gridlock occurs when there is a literal "lock" on traffic because cars are blocking intersections. The wikipedia page has a lovely image and linguistic description:


Boston's cow path streets make proper gridlock difficult or impossible to achieve in most parts of the city. Of course, there are some exceptions -- Southie, Eastie, parts of Back Bay and South End.

As she explains why the entirety of the report did not come to fruition (though a decent portion was or is currently under construction.)