Boston Traffic: Before And After The Big Dig

Traffic enters the Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Tunnel, the major component of the Big Dig, Saturday Dec. 8, 2007, in Boston. (AP)

The Big Dig, Boston’s historic highway project, has been back in the news lately.

The newest estimate of the total cost of the Big Dig is a little pricier than earlier estimates: $24.3 billion.

And former Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci, in an interview with WBUR published Tuesday, called the project an “engineering marvel,” citing it as one of his proudest accomplishments as governor.

While the Big Dig may have been a gargantuan undertaking, the areas that comprised it made up only a fraction of Boston’s roads and highways. But all of this begs the question: “How’s Boston traffic today?”

There may not be a definitive answer. But a handful of companies and research institutions are working to better understand traffic patterns around the country, and in Boston.

On July 10, GPS-giant TomTom released its North American Congestion Index, which tracked traffic patterns for the first quarter of 2012 based on measurements anonymously extracted from individual GPS units.

The Amsterdam-based company (which has its North American headquarters in Concord, Mass.) ranked Boston 19th in traffic congestion among the 26 North American cities surveyed. They also were able to pick out the most congested day of 2012′s first three months: Jan. 21, 2012.

INRIX, Inc., another private company that monitors traffic information, ranked Boston the 11th-most congested city the United States as of May 2012.

Before and after (AP)

But according to the the Texas Transportation Institute, one of the largest transportation research agencies in the United States, Boston, in 2010, was ranked ninth in delay per peak auto commuter a year – in plain English, the total amount of time that rush-hour commuters were delayed in a year. The TTI releases Mobility Data for most major cities in the nation, including Boston.

When the TTI first started compiling traffic data for Boston in 1982, the city was ranked was ranked 18th in delay per peak auto commuter. But Boston had jumped up to eighth in 1990 – a year before the dig started – and was ranked eighth in 2007 when the dig was completed.

The TTI’s data shows that traffic delays have steadily climbed since 1990, when on average peak auto commuters were delayed 29 hours a year. Delays reached their peak during the dig’s construction in 2005 — tallying in at 57 hours a year — but were most recently pegged at 47 hours a year in 2010.

Has the Big Dig improved your commute? Do you think it was worth it? Post your comments below.


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  • KyleRussMan

    I think the Big Dig HAS improved traffic – yes, through the main artery (and I use it all the time) – but more importantly, through the on and off ramp construction, which was major (and the Pike’s direct access all the way east). YET, southbound 93 into town (morning commute), and out of town, southbound (evening commute) continue to be nightmares(?!). Overall: an improvement.

  • Joealbiani

    The improvement is not in the traffic jams so much, they still are there, but in the beauty of the city from the financial district to the North End and the waterfont. The city looks so much better without that huge ugly wall of concrete and asphalt splitting the area.

  • Zandeerae

    I don’t notice an overall improvement. I began coming into town from Metrowest at 6 am instead of 7.
    That helped.  

    The problem with the BIG DIG is that it went over budget, Boston still owes on it, and it’s been falling apart since it was  “completed.”

  • Linda Kaboolian

    In 1985 I was in an airport bound taxi on Storrow Drive that was passed by my husband on his daily jog.

    Best of all — submerging the highway has reclaimed the waterfront and reconnected the city to its various parts. 

    In addition, there’s the beautiful Zakim bridge.  So I count three benefits on the Big Dig: time, park space and art.

  • Donald Leathe

    I think  the Big Dig has revolutionized the ease of driving to the airport from the west, has reconnected the various parts (North End, China Town, the business center) with the waterfront and removed and ugly scar, the elevated express way, with the ever growing and beautiful waterfront and was an engineering marvel (though not perfect in that sense) so as a long time resident of the region I think it was a wonderful investment although expensive

  • Timothy D. Brooks

    I moved to Boston in 1999 – at the height of the construction in and around the downtown area.  I commuted north on 93, from the South End to Medford – each morning – then reverse after work.  Drive time each way – usually 45 min.  Once the tunnels opened up – I had a true “reverse commute” sailing up 93 North to work in 17 minutes – against the southbound snarl every morning, which felt good.  After work, if I left around 6pm – it was sometimes faster – but no more than 20 min.    If you do the math, it means since 2007,  I’ve gained an extra 5 hours of time each week – that was previously spent stuck in bumper to bumper madness.  5 hours x 52 weeks x 5 years — that’s a total of `1,300 hours  that I’ve been given as a result of that big dig investment.  I will be eternally grateful to the visionary leaders who battled for decades to get this project planned and finally done – they know that the Big Dig would improve the quality of our lives!  Giving so many people the gift of extra time – priceless!!

  • http://twitter.com/drphilxr Philip Kousoubris

    2012 has been the most frustrating year – Rt 128 has turned into a parking lot everyday at rush hour, interestingly centered at Rt 2-2A in Lexington. Suspect this has to do with poor planning with new large corporate HQ’s going up there.  I now sadly have to backroad home every afternoon, and I’m sure local communities don’t appreciate increased local road traffic.  Oh and shuttles taking me to work – by adding 30 minutes of shuttle wait time – will make me find another job somewhere else.  

    My  job could be performed most days from home, if  we were progressive in thought….

  • jdok

    This is the problem in Boston… a whole leg off Hwy I-95/695 is missing from the sw neighborhoods and many major roads end well before they reach another major road. Are cows continuing to lay out our highway system? Is it for the benefit of all to always listen to the chatter of some new bee resident who doesn’t want progress going through their neighborhood? What good are evacuation routes when traffic is nearly gridlock at lunchtime rush?

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