How One Massachusetts Governor Rejected Car-Oriented Development

Fifty years ago, Governor Francis W. Sargent nixed a proposed expressway and set in motion a transportation future for Boston that would be remarkably different from many other U.S. cities.

Read Time: 2 minutes

December 7, 2022, 6:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Old church and modern glass building in downtown Boston, Massachusetts

ESB Professional / Boston, Massachusetts

In an article for the Boston Globe, Danny McDonald describes the long-lasting impact of a decision made half a century ago by Massachusetts Governor Francis W. Sargent.

As McDonald explains, “Fifty years ago last week, Governor Francis W. Sargent killed the Southwest Expressway, an 8-mile extension of Interstate 95 from Canton to the South End.” This fateful decision “helped Boston maintain its feel, that it preserved an inner core of neighborhoods that the highway would have been irreversibly sliced up.”

According to experts, the decision also helped guide other Boston infrastructure projects, such as the Ted Williams Tunnel.

Indeed, it’s hard to overstate the impact that Sargent’s decision had on modern Greater Boston. Today, part of the proposed highway-that-never-was is the Southwest Corridor Park, a treasured 4-mile greenway that stretches from the Back Bay to Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain. The old elevated Orange Line along Washington Street was torn down and relocated to the former highway corridor, which led to the renewal of neighborhoods in the South End and Jamaica Plain.

Sargent’s decision came after intense opposition from local community activists who feared the impact of the proposed expressway. And while it preserved many Boston neighborhoods, over 500 homes and businesses were demolished to make way for the highway before the project was canceled. But many credit it for setting Boston up for a less car-oriented future than many other American cities.

Monday, December 5, 2022 in The Boston Globe

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