This 2005 photo shows the northbound Worcester-Providence Turnpike (MA 146) approaching the interchange for the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) and US 20 in Millburn. This section of MA 146 was converted to freeway during the late 1990's and early 2000's. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
A HIGHWAY FOR THE BLACKSTONE VALLEY: During the late 1940's, the Massachusetts Department of Public Works (MassDPW) planned an extension of Route 146 from Rhode Island north toward Worcester. The proposed route was to be an extension of RI 146 (Louisquisset Pike), which was Rhode Island's first dualized highway.
The MassDPW built MA 146 as a four-lane divided roadway (two lanes in each direction) from US 20 in Millbury south to Boston Road in Sutton, with a narrow median separating the opposing traffic flows. From Sutton south to the Massachusetts-Rhode Island border, MA 146 was built as a three-lane undivided roadway, providing one lane in each direction and a shared lane in the center (striped for use in both directions along various sections of the roadway). Like RI 146 to the south, these sections of MA 146 provided partial control of access: although there were some grade separations, at-grade intersections and curb cuts were not uncommon. These sections were built between 1949 and 1952.
The completed sections of the new MA 146 provided traffic relief along the Blackstone Valley, particularly along MA 122. However, the improvements stopped about three miles shy of downtown Worcester. North of US 20, MA 146 continued as a two-lane local street.
BRINGING ROUTE 146 UP TO STANDARDS: By the mid-1960's, it had become clear that the Worcester-Providence Turnpike was unable to meet traffic demands. Anticipating even greater traffic demands around the Worcester area during the next 20 years, the state developed plans for a modern four-lane freeway along the MA 146 corridor from the Massachusetts-Rhode Island border north to I-290. The 21-mile-long freeway was estimated to cost between $40 million and $50 million in 1965 dollars.
It was not until 1981 that the MassDPW began work on rebuilding MA 146. During the next three years, the state rebuilt the 13.1-mile-long section from just south of Boston Road in Sutton to the Massachusetts-Rhode Island border, replacing the three-lane undivided section with a four-lane freeway. In contrast to the older four-lane section to the north, a wide grassy median separated opposing traffic flows. The state also established a "no-cut" line along this section of MA 146, eliminating all at-grade intersections and curb cuts. It even moved a cemetery in the path of the highway that belonged to a former almshouse in Uxbridge at the cost of $107,500.
This 2005 photo shows the Worcester-Providence Turnpike (MA 146) looking south from Purgatory Road in Sutton. This section of MA 146 was upgraded in the early 1980's. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
MAKING THE FINAL CONNECTION TO I-290: The MHD followed up in the next half-decade with the completion of the following projects on MA 146:
In March 2002, another milestone for MA 146 passed with the one-mile-long extension of the freeway section south to MA 122A (Main Street), where a new $33 million interchange was built. The interchange provides access to The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley, a regional mall that opened one year later.
In September 2003, the 1.5-mile-long "Kane Square" segment of the MA 146 Expressway was opened to traffic. The $57 million extension just north of the I-90 / US 20 interchange provided a new interchange at Millbury Street.
In November 2005, the MHD extended the MA 146 Expressway through Hurley Square. The $40 million project included the construction of a new bridge to connect McKeon Road and Providence Street over the new MA 146, along with a new two-lane frontage road to the east of the new freeway. Construction crews also built a 1,700-foot-long flood relief conduit for the Blackstone Canal to alleviate flooding in the nearby Green Island neighborhood.
The final phase of the 12-year project involved the construction of a 1.5-mile-long extension of the MA 146 Expressway, as well as rebuilding the interchange between MA 146 and I-290. New ramps connecting MA 146 northbound to I-290 eastbound, and from I-290 westbound to MA 146 southbound, were built at the interchange, which replaced the rotary at Brosnihan Square. The parallel Providence and Worcester Railroad tracks also were realigned as part of the freeway extension. Worcester officials were slow to come up with funds to purchase four parcels for the interchange and related street widenings; this delayed completion of the project by nearly two years. The $60 million final leg of the MA 146 Expressway was opened to traffic in November 2007, though additional ramp work at Brosnihan Square is expected to continue through 2009. This final section of MA 146 has a 40 MPH speed owing to some substandard design features such as the lack of shoulders.
According to the Massachusetts Highway Department (MHD), the completed freeway sections of MA 146 handle approximately 25,000 vehicles per day (AADT). This figure is expected to increase significantly upon completion of the remaining freeway section to be completed between Millbury and Sutton.
This 2008 photo shows the northbound Worcester-Providence Turnpike (MA 146) at EXIT 12 (MA 122A) in Worcester. This section of MA 146 was upgraded in the mid-to-late 2000's and features the only numbered exits on the expressway. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
CLOSING THE MISSING FREEWAY LINK FROM MILLBURY TO SUTTON: In October 2001, the MHD and the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission initiated studies on the existing four-lane undivided section of MA 146 from the MA 122A (Main Street) interchange in Millbury south to the Central Turnpike interchange in Sutton. Built during the 1930's and 1940's, this 4.1-mile-long section of MA 146, which handles approximately 25,000 vehicles per day (AADT), suffers from substandard design. Traffic lights and curb cuts only make matters worse, though the closure of median crossovers during the early 2000's have provided a stopgap measure of safety.
The two agencies recommended the following $16 million intermediate-term program to upgrade MA 146. Construction of these projects would not be expected to begin until at least 2010:
The existing grade-separated interchange at Elm Street in Millbury would be upgraded with a new MA 146 mainline bridge over Elm Street, rebuilt entrance and exit ramps, and extended acceleration-deceleration lanes.
The existing signaled intersection at Boston Road in Sutton would be upgraded to a grade-separated interchange. In addition to a new bridge for Boston Road over MA 146, there would be new frontage roads built from Boston Road south to Central Turnpike. The existing Pleasant Valley Road would be rebuilt to connect traffic entering and exiting MA 146 northbound to Boston Road. The southbound frontage road would connect traffic entering and exiting MA 146 southbound to Boston Road.
Long-range plans call for the construction of continuous frontage roads to serve businesses along MA 146. They also call for the construction of an overpass at Deborah Drive in Sutton. No cost estimate has been provided for these long-range plans.
EXTEND I-190 SOUTH TO PROVIDENCE: The I-190 designation should be extended to MA 146 and RI 146 from Worcester south to Providence (via I-290) upon completion of all sections to freeway-grade status. Exits should be numbered upon the completion of the MA 146 (I-190) conversion.
SOURCES: "Central Corridor Traffic Study," Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1965); "Fast Lane for a Highway Bill," The Boston Globe (4/28/1994); "A Hard-Earned Final Rest: Uxbridge Will Bury 31 Almshouse Residents" by David Arnold, The Boston Globe (9/14/1995); "Route 146 Plans Push USX Cleanup" by John J. Monahan, The Worcester Telegram and Gazette (2/07/1996); "Bids Opened for Turnpike Connector" by Edward T. McHugh, The Worcester Telegram and Gazette (2/27/1996); "Route 146 Project Scheduled To Resume" by Emilie Astell, The Worcester Telegram and Gazette (3/02/1998); "Mass Pike Project Speeds Along" by John J. O'Connor, The Worcester Telegram and Gazette (6/27/1998); "Route 146 Upgrade Opens in Worcester" by Bill Fortier, The Worcester Telegram and Gazette (9/13/2003); "Putting Route 146 Puzzle Together" by Martin Luttrell, The Worcester Telegram and Gazette (12/21/2003); "Worcester Link to the Mass Pike: An Update on the Route 146 Connector," Worcester Regional Research Bureau (2003); "Route 146 Intersections Shape Up" by "Putting Route 146 Puzzle Together" by Martin Luttrell, The Worcester Telegram and Gazette (12/19/2004); "Route 146 Final Design Work Delayed" by Nick Kotsopoulos, The Worcester Telegram and Gazette (6/17/2005); "Route 146 Transportation Study," Massachusetts Highway Department and Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission (2005); Douglas Kerr; Dan Moraseski; Peter Nersesian; Alexander Svirsky; Rich Whalen.
MA 146 shield by Barry L. Camp. I-190 shield by Ralph Herman. Lightpost photos by Steve Anderson.