Attention: If you really, really hate the Silver Line and wanted to have light rail on Washington Street, either stop reading here or take your blood pressure medication.
Surging Cities is a remarkable document, a textbook published in 1948 for secondary school students which looks at how cities have grown in the past and the prospects for Boston's future. It is filled with maps, charts, and photographs--the I-95 and Inner Beltway make an appearance, the need for urban renewal is discussed (watch out West End!), housing projects are promoted. Some of it seems quaint now--Filene's helicopter delivery of packages never really took off (no pun intended)--and some of it seems downright crazy, like the plans for South Bay. What really caught my eye this morning were the projects listed under the heading "Most Urgent Transit Projects" and the photo above of Washington Street.
From Surging Cities:
"When the Legislature created the M.T.A. [Metropolitan Transit Authority], it specified that the following projects should be given first attention:
(a) Enlargement and improvement of the Scollay Square, Park Street, and Boylston Street stations and the construction of two additional tracks between Scollay Square and Park Street stations. At present, there are four tracks between North Station and Scollay Square; and four tracks from park Street to Boylston Street. As the section between Scollay Square and Park Street has only two tracks, it is now the most serious bottleneck in central Boston. The above improvements were authorized by the 1948 legislature at an estimate cost of $11,500,000.
(b) The removal of the elevated structures and the construction of subways in their place. The 1948 Legislature authorized $19,000,000 for extension of the Washington Street Tunnel to a point near Cedar Street, Roxbury and for tearing down a long section of the Washington Street El.
(c) Extension of rapid transit service service as far as Braintre by the use of the lines of the Old Colony Railroad, which is one of the steam railroad commuting lines that has been losing money. Notice of suspension of its service has been given. Various alternate plans to meet this situation are being considered.
(d) Extension of the Cambridge Subway to a point near Porter Square. This proposal is described in more detal in the previous section "Plan of the Rapid Transit Commission." [I may try to post this later]
Projects A, C, and D were ultimately completed. [Update: Ron Newman comments below that Project A wasn't completed and I have no reason to doubt him. So C and D which serve non-Bostonians get built but the projects within the City of Boston don't get built. I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist but this is worth further investigation.] But in 1948 the Legislature authorized $19,000,000 to put a subway under Washington Street through the South End and into Roxbury past Dudley Square. The only questions that remain are (a) What happened to the money? and (b) Where's our subway?
The map below shows where the elevated line would have gone underground, at approximately the intersection of Cedar Street and Washington Street in Roxbury, before reaching Dudley Square as one headed toward Boston.
Update: A commenter below asks if this wasn't just a simple planning change. It wasn't, at least in my reading of it, for a number of reasons. According to Surging Cities, money was appropriated for the project, but was never spent. I find this odd. This tunnel was listed as an "urgent project" and was part of the reason for the creation of the MTA, yet the old elevated didn't come down until almost 40 years later. No one in 1948 envisioned the Orange Line in its present location--they envisioned a highway. For one reason or another, the project never got built and now I'm going to have to do the research and figure out why not. From a purely engineering standpoint, Washington Street was the only logical place to put a subway since it was the only part of that area of Boston which had historically not been underwater.
The 1948 Highway Plan (a fascinating read) included a number of projects which were never built for a number of reasons--political, financial, etc. When the I-95 plan was stopped in 1970 or 1971, work had already progressed to clear part of the corridor where the Orange Line now runs (a corridor which was, at least out to Forest Hills, part of a historic rail corridor anyway so putting a train line through there certainly wasn't a new idea). The elevated line along Washington Street ultimately came down around 1987 or so.
The idea of a highway coming into Boston from the southwest is even older than 1948. The 1930 Thoroughfare Plan has a highway running parallel to Blue Hill Avenue through Roxbury and then along where Albany Street runs through the South End to the South Station Area. There was also a Roxbury Crosstown road which would have run through North Dorchester, the Dudley Square area, and on through the Fenway.