Unbuilt Boston: The Ghost Cloverleaf of Canton

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federally funded highway project, people in the affected neighborhoods organized a massive campaign to get the project cancelled. Fred Salvucci, an MIT civil engineering graduate and transportation advisor to Boston Mayor Kevin White—and later transportation secretary under Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis—became one of the project’s loudest opponents. His influence led Representative Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill to famously tell Federal Highway Administration chairman Lowell Bridwell that the Inner Belt and the Southwest Expressway “would create a China Wall dislocating 7,000 people just to save someone in New Hampshire 20 minutes on his way to the South Shore.”

The “Ramp to Nowhere” off I-93 in SomervilleAs sentiment against highway overbuilding gathered across the nation, the Inner Belt and Southwest Expressway projects gradually fizzled, and in 1974 the state traded in the promised federal highway dollars in exchange for mass-transit funding. But even though the expressways went unbuilt, they left artifacts that are still visible around Boston. There’s the Canton cloverleaf; there’s Roxbury’s Melnea Cass Boulevard, whose surprising width is the legacy of the demolition that extended all the way to Tremont Street; and there’s even a “ramp to nowhere,” a spur jutting off the elevated section of I-93 in Somerville where the Inner Belt was supposed to have connected to the interstate.

As we zoom along today’s urban and interstate freeways, we don’t think much about the the cityscape that came before, or of the historical communities and the ribbons of natural landscape that had to be erased to make way for our internal-combustion-driven lifestyles. But in that forest in Canton, there’s a permanent reminder of a road that never was—and of the living neighborhoods that community action and a reexamination of our priorities kept intact.

For more information about the Southwest Expressway and the Inner Belt:

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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