Artery Graffiti

Tales of the Old Central Artery

A notable feature of the old Central Artery was the proliferation of graffiti on the structure. This is a strange aspect of the artery, and can be placed in a category called "other" with such items as debris falling onto moving traffic from above, or people with apparent mental challenges living beneath it.

The most pervasive incident occurred during the mid-1980s, when a group of people had spray-painted "Back The B.B." all over the artery. The term was scribed on seemingly unreachable places on the Tobin Bridge, on steel beams along Atlantic Avenue, and on walls inside the South Station Tunnel.

The meaning of "Back The B.B." was not well known. Many people believed it had something to do with legislation supported by powerful Massachusetts State Senate President Billy Bulger. Younger citizens wondered if it was a slogan for some underground racist group, as the city had just went through a period of grass-roots activism during the early 1980s.

Back The B.B. actually meant Back The Boston Bypass, a reference to a plan to replace the Central Artery by bypassing it completely. A network of suspension bridges was proposed to cross Boston Harbor that would have allowed quick demolition of the old Central Artery, and avoid any issues associated with tunnels (such as keeping the artery open while digging beneath it at the same time).

Another strange graffiti incident was in about 1980 when a symbol had proliferated along the Atlantic Avenue portion of the structure. It was just an X with the left side closed with a vertical line. I remember asking a new-waver "what does that mean," and she said "The Dead Kennedys" (a punk-rock band of the era).

Thank goodness city workers were very efficient at removing graffiti on painted portions of the structure. It was as though a midnight patrol was out each night painting over graffiti before the tourists could see it in the morning. Graffiti on concrete sections was a different story. I presume that local teenagers were allowed to get the urge out of their system in remote portions of the artery.

The Big Dig System, aka The Sponge, has paid for itself with increased productivity and reduced air pollution; all $14 billion dollars' worth.

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