The Ted Williams Tunnel was part of the “Big Dig” project to update Boston’s Central Artery highway system and was the largest architectural feat of the project. At 90ft deep below the harbor, it is the deepest tunnel in North America. It increased the amount of traffic the highway system was able to comfortably handle from 75,000 cars to over 500,000. The tunnel was named after Ted Williams, a renowned Boston Red Sox player who also served in the US military during WWII and the Korean War.


The Central Artery/Tunnel Project, more colloquially known as the “Big Dig,” was a massive renovation to Boston’s outdated and overcrowded Central Artery highway system. One of the largest undertakings of this project was the Ted Williams tunnel, which extended I-90 to Boston-Logan Airport by going under the harbor. The full Tunnel runs 8,448 feet and just under 4000 feet of that is underwater. It was constructed by using steel tubes that were lowered into the harbor and then pumped to remove the water.[1] The total cost was $1.9 billion, more than ten times what was initially planned.[2]

 

The Tunnel opened to commercial traffic in 1995, which removed a lot of the larger trucks off of the Central Artery, thus hugely reducing the amount of traffic. Later that year, the tunnel opened to all traffic over holidays and some weekends when more travel was common. Finally, in 2003, the tunnel fully opened to the public.[3] On July 10, 2006, part of the tunnel connecting I-93 to I-90 collapsed, resulting in the closing of several ramps that connected the Ted Williams Tunnel to South Boston. While this did not force the closure of the Ted Williams Tunnel, it did result in an inquiry to make sure that the design of the tunnel did not use the same faulty bolts that caused the collapse.[4]

 

The tunnel’s namesake, Ted Williams, was a famous professional baseball player who played his entire 19-year career with the Boston Red Sox, with two breaks in order for him to serve in WWII and the Korean war. Williams, often referred to as “The Kid,” had a career batting average of .344, slugging average of .634, and on-base percentage of .482, making him one of the greatest players in the history of baseball. He received the honor of MVP twice, and played in 18 all-star games. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.[5]

 

There was much controversy surrounding the naming of the tunnel. Some felt that following tradition, the tunnel should have been named after a politician or high-ranking war veteran.[6]  Others maintained that that the public could better identify with the famous athlete. Williams’ service during WWII and the Korean war were cited as reasons justifying the naming of the tunnel.[7] Some felt that the tunnel should have been named for former Boston politician James Michael Curley, who served as a city councilman, mayor, governor, and several legislative positions at varying levels. Some members of the community, especially Democrats, felt that then-Governor Weld (a Republican) had prematurely announced the name of the tunnel without consulting those around him in an effort to diminish the legacy of the Democrat Curley.[8]

 

Despite the controversy, it was ultimately determined that the Tunnel would, in fact, be named after Ted Williams. During the opening and naming ceremony of the Tunnel, Williams had high spirits and joked about his prior unpopularity with the press. As an outspoken critic of politicians (primarily due to his feelings regarding the Korean war draft), the “Splendid Splinter” himself found it ironic that the tunnel was named after him, since the honor was usually reserved for politicians[9].



[1]Harris, William. “How Tunnels Work: The Big Dig.” HowStuffWorks. Accessed Nov 5, 2017. https://science.howstuffworks.com/engineering/structural/tunnel5.htm

 

[2] Robison, Rita. "Boston's Home Run." Civil Engineering 66, no. 7 (07, 1996): 36. Accessed Nov 5, 2017. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.bu.edu/docview/228533114?accountid=9676.

 

[3] Anderson, Steve. “Ted Williams Tunnel: Historic Overview.” BostonRoads.com, 2015. Accessed Dec 3, 2017. http://www.bostonroads.com/crossings/ted-williams/

[4] Belluck, Pam. “Woman Killed as Slab Falls From Big Dig Tunnel.” New York Times, July 11, 2006. Accessed Dec 3, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/11/us/11cnd-boston.html

[5] “Ted Williams.” National Baseball Hall of Fame. Accessed Nov 5, 2017, 2017. http://baseballhall.org/hof/williams-ted

[6] Palmer,Thomas C.,,Jr. "Choice of State Honoree Carries the Feel of a Hit." Boston Globe (Pre-1997 Fulltext), Oct 08, 1993. Accessed Nov 5, 2017. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.bu.edu/docview/294805324?accountid=9676.

[7] Ryan, Bob. "Tunnel Vision for Ted." Boston Globe (Pre-1997 Fulltext), Oct 08, 1993. Accessed Nov 5, 2017. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.bu.edu/docview/294795168?accountid=9676.

[8] Trott, Robert W. “Dispute Flares Over Naming Of Boston Harbor Tunnel.” Associated Press, Dec 5, 1993. Accessed Nov 5, 2017. http://articles.latimes.com/1993-12-05/news/mn-64099_1_ted-williams-tunnel

[9] Palmer,Thomas C.,,Jr. "Choice of State Honoree Carries the Feel of a Hit." Boston Globe (Pre-1997 Fulltext), Oct 08, 1993. Accessed Nov 5, 2017. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.bu.edu/docview/294805324?accountid=9676.