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 these days because we don’t have much. This is the country. A traffic jam is a tractor and two cars at an intersection. Road repairs. An annoying slow driver. A bridge washes out.
Until we moved here, though, traffic was the single biggest issue controlling our lives. Road work in Boston made it impossible to get from one side of the city to another. Gridlock during holidays effectively closed the city.
When we lived in downtown Boston, one Friday in December, Garry asked me to pick him up at work. He had packages to carry.
I left the parking lot, drove a block, and stopped. Nothing was moving. An hour later, I still hadn’t moved. I u-turned and went home. It was pre-cell phones, so I called the guard at the front desk at Channel 7, asked him to 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. No one went anywhere.
A year later, we moved to Roxbury, just outside the city center. It was less congested. You could park for free on the street.
Along came the Big Dig, aka the Central Artery-Tunnel Project. It was a monstrous project involving rerouting and redesigning almost every road in, out, around, and through Boston. It changed the main artery (Route 93) — an ugly stretch of permanently clogged elevated highway — into a permanently clogged tunnel.
It didn’t solve the traffic problems, but it made traffic invisible. On the plus side, it straightened out some of the city’s worst intersections and made getting to and from the airport easier.
The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in history. Plagued by cost overruns, scheduling disasters, water leakage, collapses, 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.
I spent years of my life in traffic. The time I spent at work plus 2 to 4 hours of commuting, my life was dominated by traffic. By the time we slouched into retirement, we were wrecks.
Do I have a solution? No. But I know that commuting and the constant traffic wore us out. One day, we snapped. We couldn’t do it anymore.
Funny thing about traffic. You may not notice it when you live with it every day, but if suddenly, it isn’t a major factor in your life, it’s a whole, new world. A far better world.