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known as the “Big Dig,” was a massive renovation to Boston’s outdated and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. The
total cost was $1.9 billion, more than ten times what was initially planned.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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.