Popeye Doyle Times Two Lanes

Tales of the Old Central Artery

A dangerous "shortcut" along the old Central Artery was an alternate route from the South Station Tunnel to the Callahan Tunnel.

At the start of evening rush hour, many northbound vehicles would take the Callahan Tunnel to get to Logan Airport. The shortcut was to zip through the South Station Tunnel, exit at Northern Avenue, sprint to ground level around a blind S curve, and then race down Surface Road beneath the decrepit elevated structure to the Callahan Tunnel.

Surface Road was filthy and dark, with a rusted green structure over one's head, and parked cars all along the right side of the narrow street. On a rainy day, water would pour down from leaking drains onto the moving traffic below. The traffic lights on Surface Road were timed at a flow rate of about 20 miles per hour, so drivers that greatly exceeded the speed limit could (insanely) achieve all green lights.

Time of day was critical. A prerequisite for this shortcut was that the artery had to be backed up from North Station to South Station. Inside the South Station Tunnel, the rightmost lane was usually empty for a brief period because vehicles would soon be at a standstill there due to the volume of cars heading to the Callahan Tunnel.

A split-second decision was needed on whether to stay on the artery or to exit at Northern Avenue. Quite often the traffic light just past the S curve at High Street was red. On an ordinary day, the sensation at that red light was like waiting for the Kentucky Derby to start—the Callahan hadn't backed up onto Surface Road just yet, and red light running from the cross-streets hadn't started yet either.

The light changes to green! One driver punches the gas and darts to the center of the two lines of the road, thereby avoiding any pedestrians that may irrationally attempt to run across. The steeple chase was on, with fifty cars traveling at 35 miles per hour down a narrow congested street, with only a foot of space available to avoid parked cars on one side, and a tall sharp-edged tire-shredding sidewalk curb inches away on the other.

The reader may recall the scene in The French Connection when Popeye Doyle chases the elevated train from beneath the structure. Remember the woman with the baby carriage? That is what driving on Surface Road in early evening rush hour was like. It was the Popeye Doyle chase times TWO lanes, every day.

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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