This Is How The Massachusetts Turnpike Was Built

Illustration for article titled This Is How The Massachusetts Turnpike Was Built
Screenshot: Youtube

Back before 1957, getting from Boston to points west and south by car was a real challenge. Only narrow Route 9 and Route 20 stretched between the city and the bulk of the commonwealth to the west. But as road traffic grew, something new was needed.


Enter May 15, 1957. On that day, the Massachusetts Turnpike, stretching from the western border of the state with New York and Route 128, was finally opened, granting motorists a new route to the rest of the commonwealth and truck drivers a new high-speed route between the cities of the Midwest and even father with the port at Boston.

To celebrate the achievement, a nearly 45 minute-long color documentary narrated by then-famous news anchor Jack Chase was produced, outlining the need for a new road between Boston and points west, the construction process, and the benefits the new road brought about.

Chase begins by describing the road safety issues that Massachusetts drivers and legislators alike had to contend with before the opening of the new road. The curvy old roads stretching across the commonwealth couldn’t cope with the traffic post-war America would throw at them, despite signage, road striping, and state police patrols.

Chase continues to describe how the new road was built, how the right-of-way was cleared despite the need to seize some real estate, and how buildings too valuable to be demolished were moved out of the way.

The documentary goes on to describe the way that the Turnpike Authority attempted to keep the project on schedule by incorporating penalties for any lateness on the part of the contractors involved.

Chase ends his program by describing the new industrial development that was spurred by the plans for the new road. New complexes for Ford, Carling Brewery, and others were built along the planned route, demonstrating how road transport had begun to supplant railroad freight as the primary mode of transportation for American industry.

These days, the turnpike remains an important artery between Boston and the rest of the country. Incorporated into the Interstate Highway System’s I-90, the road now stretches east into Boston and under the harbor to Logan airport as well as west all the way through Chicago to the Pacific shore in Washington State. All of that started with this project, though, more than 60 years ago.

Max Finkel is a Weekend Contributor at Jalopnik.



I was struck by the absolutely cavalier attitude of this 1950's film regarding the environmental devastation, including the clear cutting of old-growth forests and referring to “useless” land to be paved over. This was matched by comments acknowledging the danger of rock dust from drilling operations. In the 1950's it seems nobody needed personal protective equipment beyond a hard hat.