This is a scary, difficult topic, and not one to be taken lightly. For your enjoyment, I've tried to sift the terms into categories, with all terms capitalized and bolded upon their first mention or their definition. Sadly, these categories may be messy, but so are highways in Boston. Blame the city's original urban planners and the gibbering maniacs who later had to assign route numbers to the roads.
Due to certain gigantic engineering projects a lot of the above terms are now obsolete. Also, while listening to good old "traffic on the 3's" brought to you by WBZ 1040, I realized that most Bostonians refer to highway names and nearby landmarks in code. Growing up in the area, I never realized how confusing it is to foreign ears. Driving around Boston is trouble enough, without having to decipher the traffic reports or directions.
NOTE: To be specific, I'm attaching prefixes before route numbers (i.e., "I-" = "interstate", "US-" = "US route", "MA-" = "Massachusetts state route"). Be advised that when referring to route or interstate numbers, Bostonians just refer to the numbers or say "Route X", e.g., US-3 is "3" or "Route 3"-even though that's a bad example, since there is a US-3 and an MA-3, which connect to each other and people think are just "Route 3" when they are, in fact, two separate roads. Confused yet? Good.
ALSO NOTE: I'm only defining roads and landmarks that go by other names. I-495 is just called "495", and thus needs no explanation.
Highways That Are Collectively Called One Name By Bostonians But Are In Fact Mulitple Highways
"128" confuses many out of towners, who often call it 95 to the amusement of Bostonians and Massachusettseans. Let's break it down: MA-128 is Boston's inner highway ring (I-695 was going to circle even further inward, but plans for that were mercifully killed). 128 is a highway throughout, but exists in several forms, moving counter-clockwise from the east:
- Just MA-128 between its northern (eastern) terminus is Gloucester and the split from I-95 in Peabody.
- I-95 and MA-128 between when I-95 joins in Peabody from its northern trip into the toll-laden wilds of New Hampshire and Maine and exit 33, where US-3 joins in Burlington on its journey north from Boston.
- I-95, US-3, and MA-128 in Burlington between exits 33 and 32, where US-3 has joined the ring briefly before splitting north to New Hampshire-its direction disagreeing with I-95 and MA-128, by the way (e.g., "I-95/MA-128 south, US-3 north")
- I-95 and MA-128 between exit 32 all the way around the west of Boston to exit 15.
- I-95, US-1, and MA-128 between exit 15 and the split in Canton, where I-95 splits off towards Rhode Island.
- I-93, US-1, and MA-128 between the Canton split and the split in Braintree (also known as the "BRAINTREE SPLIT"), where 128 effectively ends and you have a choice between I-93, US-1, and MA-3 north into Boston and MA-3 heads, or MA-3 south towards Cape Cod. Note that during this section I-93 and US-1 both agree directionwise, with MA-128 as the odd man out (e.g., "North I-93, North US-1, South MA-128"). Ah, the joys of assigning cardinal directions to ring highways.
There's a lot of debate about dropping "128" altogether, but everyone in Boston calls the highway 128 not just out of tradition, but also because it IS all the same highway, despite the other friends that come and go. If you look at a map, you'll see that I-95 joins and leaves MA-128 along the same axis, thus, if I-95 went through Boston, it would pass MA-128 at both these points. This is not an accident-indeed, I-95 was slated to go through the city, only to be fortunately squashed. If you say "95", Bostonians assume you're talking about the Peabody-to-New Hampshire or Canton-to-Rhode Island sections.
Storrow Drive is a collective term for a series of streets that all share the same roadway. Why is this, you may ask? Because the fickle gods of assigning route numbers once assigned at least part of Storrow with US-1 only to strip it away, and indeed, the easternmost segments still carry MA-3 and MA-28, but there is no number that follows it through its entire length. People need to call things a name, and thus what people call Storrow Drive indeed is the following segments, moving from east to west:
- The LEVERETT CONNECTOR IS a term that is used to describe the segment of I-93's Exit 26A (the exit number-du-jour) that carries traffic over a one(!)-lane causeway from the highway all the way to the start of Storrow Drive. Damn you, Boston Sand and Gravel!
- At this point, several ramps carrying MA-3 northbound join us from I-93 and US-1.
- At the dreaded LEVERETT CIRCLE, MA-28 southbound joins the fun.
- Between Leverett Circle and the LONGFELLOW BRIDGE, Storrow Drive is inexplicably also addressed as Charles Street.
- The Longfellow Bridge takes MA-3 and Charles Street away via an exit ramp/rotary, MA-3 heading into Cambridge, Charles River heading through Beacon Hill.
- The next exit takes MA-28 southbound away, where it follows Beacon Street and Clarendon (if heading south) to points south.
- After this, Storrow Drive is just good old Storrow Drive.
- Until, that is, it passes under the BU BRIDGE, at which point it becomes SOLDIERS FIELD ROAD, which no change in layout or drivability.
- Soldiers Field Road follows many distressingly complex intersections before finally becoming Nonantum Road in Newton.
- If you keep going straight, however, humble old Nonantum Road becomes MA-16/Watertown Street, and heads west.
You can follow one circuitous route around Cambridge, joining parkway after parkway on what is, essentially, one road. I'm keeping Memorial Drive and friends in this category because many routes join and leave what is, essentially, one road after another. So this is a fusion of the two: one road in many segments, called different names by Bostonians, and then each segment is called by one unified name by Bostonians while "officially" being other, smaller roads. Hopefully, this category is a good fit for Memorial Drive and its children.
Ah. Here's another one that is referred to as Memorial Drive, but on the map is called more than one street. Like Storrow, Memorial Drive carries a fun variety of routes that jump off and on. Moving from east to west, then, following Storrow on the opposite bank in Cambridge, we have:
- Starting from the GILMORE BRIDGE, we cross MA-28/MONSIGNOR O'BRIEN HIGHWAY and become what is referred to by Mapblast as "Commercial Avenue", by local signage as "Edward J. Land Boulevard", and by everyone else as "Memorial Drive".
- After the Cambridgeside Galleria and the Athenaeum, Memorial Drive officially First Street as that street joins the highway from Kendall Square.
- However, after the Longfellow Bridge, our pal MA-3 northbound joins the highway, and it become Memorial Drive proper.
- After the BU Bridge, MA-2 westbound joins us as well. At this point MA-3 blossoms into US-3, a designation that carries it all the way to the Canadian border at Pittsburg, New Hampshire.
- Memorial Drive ends at the ELIOT BRIDGE, where MA-2 and MA-3 head down the FRESH POND PARKWAY, but if you keep going straight, you'll be on Greenough Boulevard, which ends on Arsenal Street in Watertown.
As mentioned previously, the parkway starts by splitting from Memorial Drive, heading around western Cambridge towards the rotaries at Alewife. Let's follow it, heading north:
- The parkway carries MA-2 west and US-3 north.
- However, at Huron Avenue, MA-16 east joins us. Thus, now we have MA-2 west, US-3 north, and MA-16 east. That's gotta be a record.
- There's the first rotary. Between the first and second rotaries you're technically on Concord Avneue.
- At this point, the Fresh Pond Parkway ends and the ALEWIFE BROOK PARKWAY begins.
Moving from west to east:
- Between the Concord Avenue rotaries, the Alewife Brook Parkway carries with it MA-2 west, US-3 north, and MA-16 east. Awesome.
- At the rotary after the Alewife T station, however, MA-2 west leaves us, becoming a highway and staying that way for most of Massachusetts (except in Concord and parts of Leominster.)
- At an intersection with Mass. Ave/MA-2A, US-3 leaves us, leaving just MA-16 eastbound.
- We carry on, following MA-16 east, until northern Somerville, where a street from the side called the MYSTIC VALLEY PARKWAY joins us and renames us. Hey!
- The Mystic Valley Parkway comes down through Arlington and Winchester, we won't follow it here, as it goes nowhere special.
- However, after it kills the Alewife Brook Parkway, it follows MA-16 east into Medford.
- At I-93, however, a complicated exit develops, spitting out MA-16 east as the REVERE BEACH PARKWAY
The Revere Beach Parkway carries MA-16 east all the way to Suffolk Downs and, yes, Revere Beach. Yay!
Like I-95, Route 3 has highway sections that end on 128 on opposite sides of Boston. Let's discuss:
- North of I-95/MA-128, Route 3 is US-3, heading to New Hampshire.
- After I-95/MA-128, US-3 navigates street-level roads before joining up with the Alewife Brook Parkway.
- After the Braintree Split, Route 3 is MA-3, heading to Cape Cod.
Highways That Are Really One Highway, Different Segments of Which Are Called Different Names By Bostonians
Between Somerville to its southen terminus in Canton, I-93 goes through many names. Let's work from north to south. Again, this is the reverse of 128: while in the former's case we had a series of highway combinations that Bostonians call one name, this is one highway that is split up into many different names.
- The UPPER DECK/LOWER DECK: are the respective names for the southbound and northbound causeways that carry I-93 from Somerville to the ZAKIM BRIDGE. So-called because the northbound lanes are stacked on top of the southbound lanes, a la the Bay Bridge.
- The LEONARD P. ZAKIM BUNKER HILL BRIDGE is the name for that nifty looking new bridge that carries I-93 (and US-1, which has joined the fun from the TOBIN BRIDGE onramps), across the Charles River to the BIG DIG TUNNELS.
- The BIG DIG or the BIG DIG TUNNELS or the 93 TUNNELS: This is the heart of the Big Dig project, those tunnels that carry I-93, US-1 (and MA-3, which has also joined the fun from the Storrow Drive onramps) through downtown Boston between the Zakim Bridge and South Boston. Formerly the CENTRAL ARTERY
- The SOUTHEAST EXPRESSWAY or the EXPRESSWAY is the catch-all term for I-93/US-1/MA-3 between the Big Dig Tunnels and the Braintree Split.
- 128: See the section on 128 for more details on this. Essentially, after the split I-93 and US-1 join MA-128 and thus fall under its name.
I-90 is the MASSACHUSETTS TURNPIKE (aka the MASS PIKE) throughout its entire length, but also gets other names slapped onto it as it passes inside 128. Let's work from west to east.
From north to south, after chugging down from Revere and Chelsea:
- The NORTHEAST EXPRESSWAY: Between Revere and the Tobin. This term seems to have fallen from vogue of late.
- The MAURICE J. TOBIN BRIDGE refers to the bridge that carries US-1 from Chelsea over the Mystic River, before descending under Charlestown and ascending once again, only to merge onto I-93 just before the Zakim Bridge. This guy's tolled, by the way.
Ah. Heading south from Revere until it joins I-93 near Faneuil Hall, MA-1A goes by a couple of names:
From the north, MA-28 follows a straight enough road, Main Street this and Main Street that, all the way up to the Middlesex Fells. That's when things get interesting. Moving south, we have:
Names for Important Landmarks and Exits
Various landmarks are mentioned by traffic reporters. Let's list a few:
- The DORCHESTER GAS TANKS: a very popular item of note along I-93/US-1/MA-3 (the Expressway) at Victory Road, near Exit 13.
- The LEVERETT CONNECTOR has been mentioned previously as the ramps that connect Exit 26A to Storrow Drive. The Connector is always described as being "EASED OUT" or "FILLED IN". I think they're synonymous.
- LEVERETT CIRCLE is the rotary where MA-28 joins Storrow Drive. Mercifully, the latter now goes under it in both directions (well, it does eastward if you're getting on I-93 north).
- The BRAINTREE SPLIT refers to the junction in which I-93/US-1/MA-3 split into I-93/US-1/MA-128 or MA-3.
- The BOURNE ROTARY: Not technically in the immediate Boston area, very important nonetheless: this is where MA-3 ends at the Cape Cod Canal, and US-6 goes over the SAGAMORE BRIDGE to become the MID-CAPE HIGHWAY. The idiocy of having a major highway end at a rotary has been noted, and plans are in the works to fix this.
Names of Various Bridges Not Previously Explained in Great Detail