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Exit ahead for Rte. 128

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Exit ahead for Rte. 128

State seeks to end number confusion

By Mac Daniel, Globe Staff, 2/25/2004

It's one of the region's most famous roadways, celebrated in Jonathan Richman songs and home to the nation's first high-tech corridor.

But its name, Route 128, may one day be history, state officials say.

In order to clear up confusion and make one part of commuting around Boston make sense, the state is considering dropping the Route 128 designation.

The problem is this: Sections of both Interstate 93 and Interstate 95 overlap with stretches of Route 128, making for an occasionally puzzling parade of multiple road signs. Moreover, because of Route 128's beltway shape, a driver can be traveling on 128 South and 93 North at the same time.

State Police have said that motorists in distress often have a hard time telling dispatchers where they are on the road.

"We want to make sure that when the motorist is using our state highway system, they know what direction they're taking is the proper one," Massachusetts Highway Department Commissioner John Cogliano said. "There's confusion there that needs to be addressed."

State officials stress that no decisions have been made. The most dramatic solution they are considering is the simplest one: lose the Route 128 designation for all but the section of the roadway linking Peabody to Gloucester and Cape Ann. On that stretch, there is no overlap with the interstates.

If the state pursued that plan, the highway from Canton north to Peabody would be known solely as I-95, and the road from Canton to Braintree would be I-93 North (except for a small section where it's also Route 1, but that's another story).

The effort to ease the headaches of Route 128 is part of Governor Mitt Romney's Fix It First program to simplify state road signs, which he touted after taking office last year. The move would not require approval from federal highway officials.

But state officials recognize that old habits die hard here. They said less drastic solutions are being considered, including using small Route 128 signs along the roadside, but avoiding 128 references on big overhead signs.

If the Route 128 name is completely dropped, a series of public discussions would take place with local chambers of commerce and others about the impact, Cogliano said. Among the issues is what would happen to landmarks named after the roadway, like the MBTA's Route 128 station.

A decision is expected this summer. Local politicians and businesses along the route are already talking about trying to preserve the name, saying the region would lose vital history and local flavor with its passing.

The road, which officially opened on Aug. 24, 1951, began a real estate boom around Boston, a phenomenon that mixed with a new growth in high-tech companies seeking workspace and spurred development of a regional technological renaissance.

State Senator Robert L. Hedlund, a member of the Joint Committee on Transportation who grew up just outside the corridor, said he awaits the state's plan. "I really just want to see what MassHighway comes up with," said Hedlund, of Weymouth. "But . . . it will always be 128 to me."

From The Boston Globe

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My knee jerk reaction is too keep the name. I should get a picture of some of the signs in Dedham where you are on Rt 1S/ Rt 93 N/ 128 S all at once.

btw- because 128 runs north to south it should have an odd number designation as is US highway standard.

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btw- because 128 runs north to south it should have an odd number designation as is US highway standard.

Ah, but it is not a US highway, it is a state highway. State highways don't have any north-south east-west rules (at least in Mass.)

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They should call it I-493 or something or I-295

Originally, I-95 was supposed to go through Boston via the "Southwest Expressway," the area that is currently occupied by the Orange Line and the Providence Commuter Rail line. Then it would run up the Artery, to the Tobin Bridge, and through Revere, Lynnfield, and Saugus, to where I-95 currently splits from 128 to head into New Hampshire.

Governor Sargent put a halt to all highway construction within the 128 belt when community opposition to this plan and a proposed Inner Belt through Somerville, Cambridge, and Brookline became overwhelming.

If the original allignment had been built, 128 would probably have received an I-x95 designation. I-495 exists, the inner belt would have been I-695, and I'm not sure what 128 would have been, there is already a portion of I-295 in Mass. (I-295 loops Providence), and there was a proposal for an I-895 to loop Providence which would have been partially in Mass. Perhaps 128 would have been I-293.

I-95 should duplex with I-93 through Boston, and 128 should be an I-x95 or I-x93. The mainline interstates are supposed to go through cities. I-95 was put on 128 as a temporary measure until the Southwest Expressway was built. Since that expressway was never built, the temporary route became permanent.

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