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Fight to stop Inner Belt highway through Cambridge revisited

Posted by Brock Parker  April 4, 2012 12:25 PM

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A series of programs that kicks off tonight will explore the history and legacy of the fight against a proposal in the 1950s to build an eight lane highway called the Inner Belt through Cambridge.

The Cambridge Historical Society, which calls the multi-decade highway debate “probably the largest political fight in Cambridge in the 20th Century,” is co-hosting the series of three discussions this month.

The first discussion will be held tonight at 6 p.m. in MIT’s Strata Center at 32 Vassar St. MIT along with Livable Streets and the Lincoln Institute are co-hosting the series, which also includes discussions on April 19 and April 25.

The Inner Belt highway was proposed to connect Route 93 to Route 90 and would have gone through Central Square.

But the highway would have leveled parts of Cambridge’s Area 4 and Cambridgeport neighborhoods and would have essentially severed MIT, East Cambridge and Kendall Square from the rest of the city, according to the Cambridge Historical Society.

Efforts to stop the highway’s construction began in the 1950s and grew in the 1960s when planners, activists, universities and representatives from Cambridge and the surrounding communities rallied in opposition.

The opposition led to the first environmental impact study in the United States and Governor Frank Sargent eventually rejected the plan in the 1970s. Sargent also led a successful effort to change federal law so that funds designated for interstate highways could be used for mass transit. As a result, funds from the Inner Belt proposal were used to extend the Red Line from Harvard Square to Alewife Station, as well as an extension of the southern end of the Red Line and the relocation of the Orange Line in Boston, according to the Historical Society.

Tonight’s speakers include Fred Salvucci, Tunney Lee and Robert Goodman. The discussions are free, but space is limited. To reserve a spot, email innerbelt@cambridgehistory.org or call 617-547-4252.

More information can be found on the historical society’s website www.cambridgehistory.org.

--brock.globe@gmail.com

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