Traffic, Traffic Everywhere

A recent national report confirmed what those of us in the Greater Boston area have known all-too-well for all-too-long: That by some measures, traffic congestion on our metropolitan roadways is the worst in the entire nation and among the worst in the world.

Traffic congestion in Boston and its environs no longer is confined to the usual morning and evening rush hours during the work week. We seem to be getting closer and closer to a reality of traffic jams, 24/7/365.

And heaven forbid that there is road construction or an accident, which can make a bad situation nightmarish.

What is especially aggravating about this reality is that the Big Dig, which we still are paying for, was supposed to alleviate what had been legendary traffic tie-ups that had plagued the Greater Boston area for decades.

We endured the travails of the Big Dig throughout the 1990s, but were promised that when it was done, all of the aggravation, plus the billions and billions of dollars in cost overruns (that we commuters still are paying for via fare increases on the harbor-crossing tolls and tunnels when the feds refused to pay more than the billions they already had committed to the project) all would be well-worth it because Boston traffic would be a breeze for the foreseeable future.

Yet here we are, barely 15 years past the Big Dig’s completion, and traffic is worse than it ever has been.

The failure of the Big Dig to deliver on its promise of reduced traffic congestion is similar to the failure of the original Central Artery project that was completed in the 1950s. By the time that elevated roadway was built, it already was obsolete because there was more traffic passing through Boston each day than it had been designed to handle. Within two decades, traffic on the Central Artery was more than double its capacity.

Admittedly, just getting rid of the elevated Central Artery has been a huge boon to our downtown area. Although it was nice to drive through the city with a view from above street-level, the removal of that iron monstrosity from the landscape has been well worth the cost.

Still, it has been disappointing that the Big Dig ultimately has failed to achieve its main objective of significantly reducing traffic congestion throughout Greater Boston.

It is clear that public transportation is the only means by which our traffic problem will be alleviated. Unfortunately, the MBTA and its commuter rail lines are woefully unprepared to make even a dent in the traffic situation.

Some have suggested that linking North and South stations will help somewhat — but that is another project of epic Big Dig proportions with questionable overall value to the traffic problem. So it seems that we are stuck in a gridlock of our own doing — and there is no foreseeable clear road ahead without major investments in our public transportation infrastructure.

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