Saturday, May 8, 2010

Massachusetts Route 213

This is one of those times when I really wish The Sun offered their archives online for free.  Many, much larger, papers do.  MA-213, as we all know, is the Loop Connector running north of Lawrence and running through Methuen, connecting I-93 to 495.  It was planned at one point to continue through Dracut, crossing the Merrimack, usually discussed where the Rourke Bridge was built in the 1980s, and connecting to US Route 3.  Other than the fact it never happened and is still talked about to some extent with regards to the overtaxed Rourke Bridge (how did people in Pawtucketville and Dracut survive before this was built!?), I know very little and don't have too many accessible resources to figure out more.  Wikipedia is full of road geeks, and even the article there is very little help.

The reason I'm on this topic is that the fact that it was never built seriously delayed a trip of mine to Salem, NH - again.  Going to Bishop Guertin in Nashua in high school, I had a lot of friends in Windham.  Living in Tyngsboro, there was no good way to get there from here (to paraphrase the classic New England saying).  You either drive all the way south to 495 and back up, drive all the way up to 111 (while a high-speed road, the roads leading to it in Hudson, crossing the Merrimack somewhere, are not), or take slow-going 113 through Dracut.  This time, I was heading up from Bedford, MA, had a brain fart, missed 495, and refusing to turn around during Rush Hour, decided I'd blaze a trail to the bridge while "avoiding traffic (i.e. any bridge in Lowell)."  My incomplete mental map of Dracut, Pelham, and yes...Pawtucketville, caused me to take the most idiotic route imaginable, including traffic-choked and completely-out-of-the-way Lakeview Ave, and all in all, the trip took 90 minutes (should've been 30).

Can I advocate for the demolition of Dracut for a new expressway?  No.  While it would be wonderful for today's Lowell area residents, the construction of or widening of interstates leads to what is called "latent demand," which is when people start making longer trips as they become easier, quickly bringing traffic counts up to where they were before construction.  Couple that with a new ease-of-access to previously hard-to-reach areas, and you have a perfect formula for growing suburban sprawl.  Case-in-point: The Rourke Bridge.  Life carried on in Lowell before it was there, it was built to alleviate congestion, now it's one of the most congested places in the city.  What did Lowell gain from it?  A more populated Dracut and Pawtucketville.  At least P-ville generates tax revenue for Lowell, Dracut doesn't.  I often wonder, as many urban theorists do, if these new roads often continue the economic destruction of our cities.  Is the wall of interstates around Lawrence, and the lack of interstate access to Lowell, one of the reasons why our city is in better shape today?  Some would argue precisely that.  I think it very well might be a contributing factor.


  1. As far as the Lowell-Lawrence difference, I'm still way more inclined to lean towards the difference you cited earlier about the actual geographical size of the city. I know Dick Howe has talked about this, too, and I think it makes a ton of sense -- you can move to Lowell, stay here and be a *stakeholder* and still enjoy the perks of living in just about as nice a house in just about as nice a neighborhood as most people could afford. As a result, Lowell has benefited for years from having a solid core of civic-minded citizens who care deeply about the city, its history, and its future.

    If a lot of the nicer neighborhoods had been carved away from the city's boundaries years ago, that might not be the case today.

    To borrow phraseology from Jack Mitchell, you can be a "grow-in" here without taking any crazy risks or sacrificing much in the way of lifestyle (esp. if you believe, as I do, that we have an excellent public school system).

    I know there are some very nice parts of Lawrence, but it's just a way tougher *sell* to try to a) attract young professionals to Lawrence (from within or from without), and then b) convince them to stick around long enough to be truly invested in the community, as there are fewer palatable ways to do that without spilling right over into Andover.

  2. Agreed - and of course my mentioning of growing sprawl in Pawtucketville tied to the Rourke Bridge also means more people can live in Lowell without having to live in tenements - a great incentive to stay in the city as you said. Or the infill residential development that people complain about in Belvidere does the same thing.

    That said, in some ways it's not all good because land use in Lowell is way up and population is stagnant. On the other hand, maybe central Lowell really was badly overbuilt (like I'd imagine much of Lawrence is) and needed some thinning out to be humanely livable, while still being dense enough to be walkable.