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Friday, September 10, 2004

Interstate 93 South Navigation: From Boston to Braintree

Providing directions to one’s house – or any objective for that matter – is a requirement for someone who doesn’t know the destination. This may be as simple as “drive down the street three houses” if you are fortunate enough to live on the same thoroughfare. If you don’t, a more complex set of directions is required.

When the directions involve major highways or interstates, most people simply give the numbers for entrance and exit ramps without supplying directions for the traveler while they are on the highway. This is generally the practice since highways don’t leave much room for turns or stop signals or intersections. In Boston however, this is simply not feasible. Without proper interstate directions, one may find themselves spending an extra 30 minutes en route.

This set of directions can be used by anyone traveling southbound on Interstate 93 through Boston during rush hour. Rush hour is assumed to be any time of any day with the exception of 2 AM to 3:15 AM on Tuesday mornings.

Crossing the Leonard P. Zakim Bridge southbound brings one into the new underground Interstate 93 through Boston. At this point, you will need to be in the left most lane. Upon entering the tunnel, one must immediately start planning the migration one lane to the right. For your current lane holds an ‘exit only’ in your future.

The tunnel is now three lanes – the left hand lane is an exit only, the middle lane is where you should be, the right lane will bring you to the same destination as the lane you are in; however, this lane is hampered with on ramp traffic and traffic trying to exit to the surface streets through the no man’s land to the far right of the tunnel. This no man’s land technically is a fourth lane; however, it starts with an on ramp and ends with an off ramp thus reducing its traffic moving capacity to the idiots who pull out, pass everyone on the right and then jut back in at the last moment. Your middle lane placement (first lane in from the left) helps you avoid this catastrophe.

You’ll soon find yourself, your car and the traffic surrounding you narrowed to two lanes – of which you are in the left most. You will now need to move to the right lane. You’ve patiently awaited the move to this lane avoiding the merging on ramp traffic and now – ahead in this lane – is the Mass Pike exit. Traffic will be dividing itself between the Mass Pike exit and continuing on Interstate 93, thus reducing backup delay by approximately 50 percent in the right lane. Also, note that upon tunnel exit, there are two left lane merges to Interstate 93: one for the Mass Pike east bound traffic to join Interstate 93 and one for the Boston surface artery traffic to join Interstate 93. You’ll avoid this mess by your right hand lane selection in the tunnel, after Exit 23 but before the Mass Pike exit.

Upon emerging from the tunnel, ride the right lane freeway and be amazed with the speed you pass cars that are parked to your left. It is important that you don’t become complacent; for you are actually in another ‘exit only’ lane. You have the Albany Street on ramp and the Mass Ave exit to contend with. You will need to migrate from your current right lane speedway to the left most lane in bumper to bumper traffic in less than a half mile. No small feat for the inexperienced but a rather basic maneuver for the schooled Boston driver.

Your new left hand lane placement down the incline to the Mass Ave exit allows you to miss the traffic that is now stuck in an ‘exit only’ lane trying desperately not to exit. This causes backups in the exit lane, the right lane from the merging traffic and subsequently, the middle lane from those in the right lane who are trying to avoid the aforementioned ‘exit only’ but not trying to exit people that are cutting off those unfortunates that didn’t know they should be following you. Furthermore, there is an on ramp which contributes to right hand lane congestion.

The current three lanes become four lanes just after the Exit 15 on ramp. Traffic generally starts to move slightly better at this point. You should employ the pick and weave technique to pass slow moving drivers that have been hypnotized into moving slow simply because they have been moving slow for the past half hour. Don’t let your guard down though. At any point, theses drivers may become aware – however, not alert – and begin driving erratically in efforts to speed up while not looking to verify safe lane changes.

After passing the Exit 15 off ramp, you must prepare for the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane section. You will generally want to be in one of the right two lanes until you see the HOV lane on your left. This is due to all traffic migrating to the left lane for HOV lane access and all those in the left lanes trying to move out of the way. The left two lanes are generally much slower than the right two lanes until the HOV lane entrance. At the HOV lane entrance, you should move into the left most lane careful not to move to far and enter the HOV lane lest you be ticketed by the vigilant state police who guard the HOV lane entrance.

You may now relax in the left hand lane as traffic will no doubt come to periodic standstills. You may try the pick and weave technique again; however, this usually proves inefficient at this point. Traffic speed will increase after Exit 12 and before Exit 11. Just before Exit 11, you’ll want to start migrating to the right lanes as the left lanes will begin stopping for no reason whatsoever. This may seem counter intuitive since there is the Exit 11 on ramp to deal with, but for some unknown reason, traffic in the right lane moves better at this point of the navigation ordeal. Judgment can be made by the advanced driver to take the Granite Ave (Exit 11) off ramp and begin a back-road traverse if there is considerable tie up before Exit 11. This back-road navigation is beyond the scope of this document.

For the next stretch, use the pick and weave technique through the three right lanes – avoiding the left most lane unless there is a clear opening. Again, for the advanced Boston driving professional, there are alternate back-road routes available at Exit 10 and Exit 9. For the inexperienced, continue to Exit 8.

For the approach to Exit 8, migrate to the right most lane. About a half mile past Exit 8, there is the end of the HOV lane and the Exit 8 on ramp. These two merges happen on opposite sides of Interstate 93 (left and right respectively); thus, traffic begins to stall out again. You can avoid this mess with a detour down the Exit 8 off ramp.

Take the Exit 8 off ramp and proceed down the ramp and back up the hill. Continue past the merge into your lane from the left and through a second merge from the left. You’ll be faced with a branch in the road. Bear left and immediately you’ll see the sloping up ramp – the Exit 8 on ramp back to Interstate 93. You’ll need to quickly bear right to make this. To recap, a quick S-turn (bear left and then bear right) gets you to the on ramp and back onto Interstate 93.

After merging with the Interstate 93 traffic in the right most lane, you can either stay in the current lane and follow Interstate 93 through the Braintree split or migrate to your left to access the Route 3 South exit. If you’re confused and undecided, the middle lane (actually, the right middle lane since there are four lanes) is your best bet. This placement affords you easy access to either Route 3 South or the continuation of Interstate 93 South towards Interstate 95 North. It should be noted that in approximately 5 miles, Interstate 93 South becomes Interstate 95 North. Don’t be confused by the seemingly contradicting South and North Interstate 93 and 95 designators – you will actually be on Route 128 and traveling in an eastbound direction.

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