5 Things You Didn’t Know About Mass. Roadways

April 25, 2013 6:00 AM

(Photo Credit: HistoricUS20, The Historic US Route 20 Association Inc. , http://www.historicUS20.com)

The thousands and thousands of commuters who travel along Massachusetts roadways each day can often look left or right to find something interesting. But what about the roads themselves? Here are five things you didn’t know about Massachusetts roadways.

(Photo Credit:  HistoricUS20, The Historic US Route 20 Association Inc. , www.historicUS20.com)

(Photo Credit: HistoricUS20, The Historic US Route 20 Association Inc. , http://www.historicUS20.com)

1. Hop On The Longest Interstate & Longest Roadway In The U.S.

I-90, which includes the Mass Pike, stretches 3,099.07 miles from Boston to Seattle. It runs relatively parallel to U.S. 20, the longest road in the country. Route 20 runs 3,365 miles from Kenmore Square all the way to Newport, Oregon.

There actually used to be a longer road in the United States. Route 6 once stretched 3,652 miles from Provincetown to Long Beach, California. But in 1964, California changed the route number on the final stretch, cutting the total distance of the route to 3,205 miles.

The first state-issued license plates. (Photo Credit:MassRMV.com)

The first state-issued license plates. (Photo Credit:MassRMV.com)

2. May Explain Why Massachusetts Drivers Have A Horrible Reputation

Another first in the nation for Massachusetts came in 1903, when the state began issuing driver’s licenses and registration plates. At that point, there was no driver’s test. So it didn’t matter how bad your driving was, you could still get a license. It wasn’t until 17 years later that Mass. started requiring a driver’s license test.

Of note, Boston Symphony Orchestra founder Henry Lee Higginson led the push for license plates. He apparently wanted a way to identify and punish the rude drivers whizzing by his home at speeds that were much faster than the posted 15 mile-per-hour speed limit.

(Photo Credit: sec.state.ma.us)

(Photo Credit: sec.state.ma.us)

3. The Big Archeological Dig

While the Big Dig may not have solved Boston’s traffic problem, it did shed some light on history. In fact, the central artery project turned out to be a boon for archaeologists. Scientists found Native American hunting and fishing artifacts dating back thousands of years. They also uncovered one of America’s first taverns, which included wine glasses, mugs, plates, and more. Eighteenth Century dress boots, cologne bottles, clay pots, old coins, tobacco pipe stems, and much more were all discovered. Among the relics is also North America’s oldest known bowling ball, which was made of wood. In all, artifacts filled more than 1,000 boxes.

4. The I-95 / 128 stretch: It didn’t have to be this way.

In 1967, construction was underway to bring Interstate 95 through Boston. Parts of Revere and Saugus were cleared and graded in preparation for the highway that was to run parallel to Route 1. By 1970, Governor Francis Sargent had killed the plan that brought the interstate through the Lynn Woods Reservation, the Walden Reservoir and the Saugus River wetlands. I-95 was eventually re-routed to the same route as 128. The proposed route is mapped out here. Zoom into the lower part. You can actually see the work that was done – including still-paved on and off ramps from Route 1 to a couple of unused overpasses.

5. Curley’s #5 Plate

Mayor James Michael Curley was the first mayor of Boston to have an automobile. His plate number was “576” – the number of letters in “James Michael Curley.” The mayor of Boston’s official car still uses the same number on its plate.

Curley went on to be governor. When he left office, thanks to an intriguing back story, his private car bore the number “5” license plate. The license plate had belonged to a prominent Republican up until the man’s license was suspended over a drunk driving arrest. Folk lore suggests that Curley may have had something to do with the scandal, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Family members say the license plate eventually went up for auction to the highest bidder. Recently a 1979 version of the #5 plate popped up for auction on Ebay and sold for $743.