The Massachusetts Turnpike, I-90, the fabled Mass Pike of story and song, was constructed in
segments from 1955 to 2002, when its final eastern terminus off of MA 1A at Logan Airport was
completed. The Mass Pike is quite a ride, from the idyllic western section between the duelling banjos
of Becket and Otis, to the traffic-choked rat run of metro Worcester, to the frenetic road that burrows under the Prudential and a Star
Market. It's not
as beautiful as the Pacific Coast Highway, nor as ugly as the New Jersey Turnpike, nor as
outright sleep-inducing as the New York State Thruway, but it's good nonetheless. A functional,
easy-to-use highway that takes you from point A to point B, with a few enormous McDonalds signs and
Pilgrim logos along the way.
Originally conceived in the late 1940s as the Western Expressway connecting Boston to the "west" (that is, Metro West, Worcester, Springfield, and points
beyond) with several local interchanges (including a junction to the existing-only-on-paper I-695),
the Mass Pike was retooled in 1952 by the director of MassDPW (the forerunner of MassHighway),
William F. Callahan, as a toll road due to the commonwealth's economic shortfalls. A western highway
out of Boston was desperately needed, as the capacity of east-west roads such as MA 9, Commonwealth Avenue/MA
30, and others were stretched to the breaking point by post-World War II subruban growth. Later that year, the Massachusetts State House
created the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which had the formidable task of building,
maintaining, and collecting tolls on a trans-state highway. Callahan was immediately offered the
position of director, and subsequently retired as head of MassDPW.
The first segment, from the New York state line at West
Stockbridge to the junction with MA 128 (later I-95/MA 128) in Weston,
was constructed between 1955-1957. Callahan himself designed the famed "Pilgrim hat"
logo complete with a Native American arrow. A certain urban legend has it that the arrow was Callahan's way of
insinuating that the Irish were supplanting the Brahmins in the Massachusetts political
hierarchy, though personally I fail to see the connection.
Unfortunately, the construction of the easternmost segment between Weston and Boston through Newton required greater political wrangling on
Callahan's part. The new head of MassDPW, John Volpe, proposed that a connector between the
then-under construction (well, the then-and-now-under-construction) I-93 in Boston and
MA-128 would be constructed by MassDPW, and would be totally devoid of any tolls. Thus, the dream of the Western
Expressway was reborn. In this contest, Callahan at least had a solidified Mass Pike-Boston
Extension plan, in contrast to Volpe's pie-in-the-sky Western Expressway.
After much Machiavellian skullduggery on Callahan's part from 1955-1960, including behind-the-scenes dealing with Prudential, buying out rights-of-way
from the declining railroad companies, blasting Volpe's spending estimates, bending Eisenhower's
highway legislation to his advantage, and renewing the Turnpike Authority's charter, the way to extension was
finally paved-no pun intended. Unfortunately, partisan bickering, the bane of all
public works projects, reared its ugly head. Callahan's nemesis Volpe, who had left MassDPW to head
up the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, decided to run for governor on the Republican ticket, hoping to stymie Callahan's toll-based doings.
Callahan, a staunch Democrat, enlisted the aid of John F. Kennedy, who had just been elected
president, and the VP of Prudential, Fred Smith, in support of his extension. Prudential proved to be a key
player in the contest, as the extension would pass directly underneath its property in Copley Square, right in the
heart of Boston.
At long last, in 1962, after trying to float the extension project with bonds, Callahan received
the money and the go-ahead to build the Boston Extension, which was completed in 1965. Sadly, Callahan did not get a chance to see his dream realized, passing away in the spring of 1964. That following year, the
Pike was extended to a set of tolls in the Allston Spur, and then finally to
I-93 near South Station, which would serve as the highway's eastern terminus until the turn of the
From the 1960s to the 1990s, the Turnpike was widened as traffic flow increased. New exits
were added with the construction of I-495, Boston's outer orbital highway. I-84 was routed into
the Mass Pike at Sturbridge. I-84 was initially designed as a Hartford-Providence connector, with I-86 serving as the
diagonal up into Massachusetts. I-84 was never extended to Providence, however, except for a short
segment that later became I-384. Instead, traffic was funneled into the Mass Pike, providing
Bostonians with an alternative to I-95 when driving to New York City and other
places in the megalopolis. In the 1990s, an exit was built for MA 146, an important connector
road between Worcester and Providence. MA 146/RI 146 is scheduled to be
upgraded to full freeway status in a series of improvements to the Blackstone Valley corridor region.
Another important, yet less intrusive, project was also implemented in the late 1990s, namely
FastLane. Funded in part by Fleet Bank, FastLane allows cars to pay
by a remote signal as they pass through tolls. This allows traffic to pass through toll plazas without stopping. FastLane is compatable with the E-Z Pass system used in metropolitan New York
City and Philadelphia, thus tying all the major toll systems of the
eastern seaboard together. Well, with a few annoying exceptions.
The late 1990s and the early 2000s saw the most infamous and ambitious American highway project
ever undertaken - the Central Artery Tunnel project, aka "the Big Dig". Plans dating back to
the 1980s called for the extension of the Mass Pike past I-93, under South Boston and Inner Boston
Harbor through the Ted Williams Tunnel, to its new eastern terminus at MA 1A in Logan Airport.
This would allow travelers coming from the west and south to circumvent the choked tunnels of MA 1A,
the Sumner Tunnel and the-you guessed it-Callahan Tunnel, when going to the airport.
Construction was finally completed in 2002, when the Ted Williams Tunnel was unveiled for public
use after years of scrutiny. The new shunting of I-90 also eased construction on I-93 and allowed
for the laying of tunnels for the MBTA's new Silver Line.
The Mass Pike is 136.1 miles (218 km) long, cutting across the length of the state from West
Stockbridge to Boston. Below is the exit list, going from west to east:
State Line: West Stockbridge, Massachusetts/Canaan, New
(Mile 3): EXIT 1 (westbound only) - MA 41 TO MA 102 - West Stockbridge
(Mile 3): TOLL PLAZA
(Mile 8): LEE PLAZA* This rest area is fully decked out with restaurants and
(Mile 11): EXIT 2 - US 20 - Lee, Pittsfield
(Mile 20): HIGHEST POINT ON I-90 UNTIL OACOMA, SOUTH DAKOTA**
(Mile 29): BLANDFORD PLAZA This rest area has gas. On a side note, employees have
a little key that lets them onto a frontage road. This must be an invaluable asset to locals, as
this is along the infamous "30 mile" stretch of I-90 between Lee and Westfield.
(Mile 36): The infamous runaway truck ramp
(Mile 40): EXIT 3 - MA 10 US 20 - Westfield,
Entering West Springfield
(Mile 45): EXIT 4 - I-91 US 5 - Springfield, Holyoke
Entering Chicopee, crossing Connecticut River
(Mile 49): EXIT 5 - MA 33 - Chicopee
(Mile 51): EXIT 6 - I-291 - Springfield, Hartford
(Mile 55): EXIT 7 - MA 21 - Ludlow Belchertown
(Mile 56): LUDLOW PLAZA Gas and restaurants.
(Mile 63): EXIT 8 - MA 32 TO US 20 - (westbound:) Palmer, Amherst (eastbound:) Palmer, Ware
(Mile 78): EXIT 9 - I-84 US 20 - (westbound:) Hartford, New York City (eastbound:) Sturbridge, Hartford
(Mile 80):CHARLTON PLAZA The infamous Charlton Plaza. Fully outfitted for your
traveling needs. By far the most-visited rest area in all of Massachusetts, possibly New
(Mile 90): EXIT 10 - I-290 MA 12 I-395 - Auburn,
(Mile 93): EXIT 10A - MA 146 US 20 - Worcester,
(Mile 96): EXIT 11 - MA 122 - Millbury, Worcester
(Mile 104): WESTBOROUGH PLAZA (westbound only) Vending machines, gas, and
a convenience store.
(Mile 106): EXIT 11A - I-495 - NH-Maine, Cape Cod
(Mile 111): EXIT 12 - MA 9 - (westbound:) Framingham, Marlborough (eastbound:) Framingham
(Mile 115): FRAMINGHAM PLAZA (westbound only) Vending machines, gas, and a
(Mile 117): EXIT 13 - MA 30 - Natick, Framingham
(Mile 118): NATICK PLAZA (eastbound only) Vending machines, gas, and a
(Mile 123): EXIT 14 (eastbound only) - I-95 MA 128 - NH-Maine, South Shore
(Mile 124): TOLL PLAZA If you're going eastbound, this is where you hand in your
ticket. If you're going westbound, this is where you pick up your ticket.
The Boston Extension
At this point the highway becomes much more urban, from wide lanes and spaced onramps to tight
corners and no breakdown lanes. Tons o' fun.
Entering Newton, crossing Charles River
(Mile 124): EXIT 15 (westbound only) - I-95 MA 128 MA 30 - Westwood, Waltham
(Mile 125): EXIT 16 (westbound only) - MA 16 - West Newton, Wellesley
(Mile 126): EXIT 17 - Newton, Watertown
(Mile 131): EXIT 18 (eastbound only) - Brighton, Cambridge
(Mile 131): TOLL PLAZA
(Mile 131): EXIT 20 (westbound only) - Allston, Brighton, Cambridge
(Mile 131): EXIT 22 (westbound only) - Prudential Center, Copley
(Mile 134): EXIT 24A (eastbound only) - South Station
(Mile 134): EXIT 24B (eastbound only) - I-93 NORTH - Concord, NH
(Mile 134): EXIT 24C - I-93 SOUTH - (westbound:) Cape Cod
After the new Big Dig-buit Exit 24 passes by, we descend into the murky depths of Boston.
(Mile 135): EXIT 25 (westbound:) - South Boston, TO I-93 NORTH
(eastbound:) South Boston
Crossing Boston Harbor
(Mile 135): EXIT 26 (eastbound only) - Logan Airport
(Mile 136): EXIT (westbound only) - Hotel Drive, Car Rentals
(Mile 136): EXIT (eastbound only) - MA 1A SOUTH/Sumner Tunnel - Boston
)(Mile 136): EXIT (eastbound only) - MA 1A NORTH - Revere
*Rest areas in Massachusetts are called "plazas". This is similar to the "house" of Maryland
or the "oasis" of Illinois
**This is announced by a gigantic sign. Having driven cross country using I-90 most of the way,
I'm sad to report that Oacoma fails to return the favor. Bastards.
***This is the most aptly named town in all of Massachusetts.
Sources: www.bostonroads.com, http://neturnpikes.tripod.com/mass_pike.htm