Most of us don’t think about traffic. We just deal with it. It’s part of life. Whether it’s trying to find a parking space or sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a holiday weekend, traffic is everywhere. I don’t usually think about traffic because we don’t have much of it here. This is the country. A traffic jam is a tractor and two cars waiting at an intersection. Maybe road repairs. Or an annoying slow driver. Sometimes, a bridge washes out.
Until we moved here, though, traffic was the biggest issue in our lives. Road work in Boston made it impossible to get from one side of the city to another. Gridlock during holidays could close the city. One Friday in December, I tried to pick Garry up at work. I left the parking lot, drove a block, and had to stop. Nothing was moving. An hour later, I was in the same place. I made a u-turn and went home. This was before cell phones, so I had to call the guard at the front desk at Channel 7 and ask him to go outside and tell Garry I couldn’t get there.
The next day it was in the papers and on TV — Boston was gridlocked. It was the Friday before Christmas. Everyone had decided to go shopping simultaneously, so no one went anywhere.
A year later, we moved to Roxbury, 4 miles outside the city center. It was less congested. You could park for free on the street. Then came the Big Dig. The Central Artery-Tunnel Project, aka the Big Dig, was a monstrous project involving rerouting and redesigning virtually every road in, out, around, and through Boston. There were no areas unaffected though it was worse some places than others. It turned the main artery (Route 93) — an ugly stretch of permanently clogged elevated highway — into a permanently clogged, long tunnel. It didn’t solve the traffic problems, but made traffic invisible, leaving everyone to sit in their overheating cars hoping they will live to see the other side of the city. It straightened some of the worst intersections and made getting to and from the airport easier. Made the city prettier.
The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in history. Plagued by cost overruns, scheduling disasters, water leakage, collapses of ceilings, design flaws, poor workmanship, nepotism, corruption, payoffs, substandard materials, criminal arrests for some offenders (but not enough) and 4 deaths, the project was scheduled for completion in 1998 and was supposed to cost $2.8 billion. It was officially finished in December 2007 and cost $14.6 billion.
The Boston Globe estimates when all is said and done, including interest, fines, and lawsuits, the project will cost more than $22 billion and won’t be paid off until 2038. Maybe not even then. The Big Dig drove us out of Boston. One day, I had to go shopping. The supermarket was a mile away. It took me 2 hours to get there and another hour and a half to get home.
“Garry,” I said that evening, “Let’s get out of here!” And we did. We fled. Traffic was controlling our lives. We couldn’t go to a restaurant or a movie. We couldn’t shop, park, or get to work. People trying to visit us couldn’t find our condo because the exit to our neighborhood was often closed. Out-of-town visitors roamed helplessly through the streets of Dorchester looking in vain for a street sign or marker. Sometimes we couldn’t find our way home either.
I spent years of my life in traffic. Add time spent in the office and 2 to 4 hours of commuting, life was dominated by traffic. By the time we slouched into retirement, we were wrecks. Also poor, but it was better than commuting. Do I have a solution? No. But traffic wore us out. One day something snapped. We couldn’t do it anymore.