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South Boston: Traffic Jam on the Southeast Expressway

While looking for an image to post in the “Parking Lot Series” this shot of the Southeast Expressway (now a part of I-93) in South Boston, Massachusetts, turned up. In reality, traffic in the Boston area was and is a slowly moving parking lot, so this photo would fit in perfectly in that series. Your Editor spent a part of a Friday afternoon and evening plus a Saturday on the streets and highways there and on the North Shore late last fall and the traffic congestion was non-stop.

The Southeast Expressway was constructed in the mid-to-late-1950s and was finished and opened to motorists in 1959. It begins in  Braintree, a City southeast of “Beantown” and ends in South Boston. The expandable picture by Grant Spencer below of the Roadway courtesy of the Boston Public Library dates to 1971.

Share with us what you find of interest in this photograph. This situation was not just a 1970s problem, take a look at “A Traffic Mess in Beantown”  in the early-1960s.

21 responses to “South Boston: Traffic Jam on the Southeast Expressway

  1. I compared this shot to the earlier “A Traffic Mess in Beantown” shot and think I see a difference. The other photo was taken in 1959/60 and contains a lot of cars from the early fifties — like the ’50 Chevrolet in the foreground. Just look back over traffic and count the number of split windshields. This shot was taken in 1971 but contains almost no cars from the early sixties. The ’64 (?) Volvo 122 and ’66 Impala wagon in the foreground are about the oldest I spotted.

    I’m always looking for the story behind the photo, so maybe I’m kidding myself. But I wonder if this doesn’t illustrate the horsepower transformation of the fifties and sixties. In the late fifties, only the largest and most powerful cars could handle sustained highway speeds. Most traffic was made up of underpowered sixes tied to sloppy automatic transmissions or geared-down three speeds. So it was safe to take your Stovebolt Six Chevy out on the highways. You could keep up with traffic.

    By 1971, even smaller, cheaper cars had substantial power plants tied to more responsive drivetrains. So your ’62 Rambler with its flathead six and three on the tree would be swamped by modern traffic. Most 10-year-old cars just couldn’t keep up any more.

  2. From a photo standpoint, I suggest this was shot on Tri-X film in a 35mm camera with a 200mm telephoto lens.

  3. I see the tail end of a 1973 full sized Chevrolet (lower left above the 1966 wagon) and a 1973 Grand Prix (upper left) so it is at the very least late 1972 or 1973.

  4. David,

    You’re absolutely correct, this road was and still is a parking lot. Was on the Southeast Expressway a month ago and it took 45 minutes to go from Braintree to North Station. This was after 9:00 AM.

    In the picture are two “P &B” buses heading north. P & B is still in business [Plymouth & Brockton Street Railway Company] and an “Almeida” bus [Almeida Bus Company is long out of business].


    • And the FINAST supermarket truck. FI rst NAtional STore where my mother shopped and saved Gold Bond Stamps. After filling 26 books of stamps we got a movie projector.

  5. Directly above that 66 Chevy wagon are the tail lights of a 73 Bel Air on the highway below. Two lanes over to the right from that is an early 70s Toronado. And a couple of cars in front of that looks like a Plymouth Satellite of similar vintage

  6. I’ve driven that road many times myself. Not so affectionately known as the Southeast Distressway

  7. A motorcyclist at the Chinatown sign. Only one I see. Also looks like a top down convertible on the right side of frame. (Almost next to the closest bus)

  8. Imports just starting to trickle in. Aside from the Volvo’s, and half a handful of Bugs, I think I see a Mazda RX-2( or 3), an Opel GT, an Audi 100, possibly another Opel, a 1900 sedan, Fiat 850 roadster(?), possibly a Toyota Corolla( in front of the Opel 1900), and one lone biker. Anybody else see the Cutlass 442 with it’s hood up?( above Mass Pike sign)

  9. This strikes a note to my ten years in the Boston area, from 1975 to 1984 . With out a doubt, one of the most challanging areas to drive in, on a regular basis. When the roads are less travelled, you always had the breakdown lane as a passing lane or when busy a full extra lane…. or the flashing yellow light intersection….where everyone battled to get to the other side…think of Braintrees’s five corners ” and don’t let anyone know what your intentions are by signaling. And my favorite…the continual left turn……don’t break the chain and everyone continues to make a left long after the light has turned red.

  10. Extreme left seems to be a mid 70s Mercedes 240 leading a Maverick? This is a great web site; thanks to everyone who keeps it ticking over.

  11. I was stationed at Fort Devens west of Boston in ’65-’66.
    I had driven there from LA in an AC, but bought a VW to brave the Northeast winter and the Boston traffic, which reminded me of Tijuana.
    If it weren’t for the big dent, that could have been me in the pic.
    I never went to the city without seeing at least one accident and getting lost.
    It still embarrasses me how many times I ended up having passed the point of no return for the Mystic Bridge, paying the toll and having to find a place some miles north to turn around.

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