THE METHUEN LOOP: In 1959, the Massachusetts Department of Public Works (MassDPW) began work on a "Relocated Route 113" designed to provide a northerly bypass of the Methuen-Lawrence area. Located entirely within the town of Methuen, the four-lane expressway connects the Outer Circumferential Highway (I-495) with the Northern Expressway (I-93).
Much of the "Relocated Route 113" had been completed on September 11, 1962, when the expressway was ceremonially named the "Albert Slack Memorial Highway." Beginning at I-93, the new expressway had interchanges at MA 28 (Broadway) and existing MA 113 (Pleasant Street / Prospect Street), and ended at a temporary interchange with Pleasant Valley Street. In 1964, the MassDPW extended the expressway to the newly completed I-495. Upon completion, the MassDPW re-designated the route MA 213.
In 1970, state officials submitted the MA 213 Expressway for inclusion in the Interstate highway system (possibly as an I-x93 loop route) in the hope of obtaining 90 percent Federal funding for the project. However, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) rejected this proposal.
In October 2000, the Massachusetts Legislature officially designated MA 213 Expressway as the "Loop Connector." According to the Massachusetts Highway Department (MHD), the Loop Connector carries approximately 45,000 vehicles per day (AADT).
BACK IN TIME: This photo from the dedication of the "Albert Slack Highway" on September 11, 1962 shows Mr. and Mrs. Frank Slack cutting the ribbon for the highway on the right. MassDPW commissioner Jack P. Riccardi is shown on the left looking on. (Photo by Massachusetts Department of Public Works.)
EXTENDING THE LOOP CONNECTOR TO LOWELL: In 1958, the MassDPW published the first of three studies for a northerly bypass of the Lowell area and a new bridge crossing the Merrimack River. As the Loop Connector (existing MA 213) was being completed around Methuen in the early 1960's, officials from the MassDPW considered a proposal to extend the MA 213 Expressway west to the Northwest Expressway (US 3) in the Chelmsford (Drum Hill Rotary) area. The proposed extension was to provide relief along I-495 between Lowell and Lawrence, which was expected to carry heavy traffic loads even though it was under construction at the time. It was to also provide another crossing of the Merrimack River.
In its 1968 report Recommended Highway and Transit Plan, the MassDPW tested the route of the proposed MA 213 Expressway extension in its long-range highway test network. The MassDPW estimated that by 1990, the MA 213 Expressway was expected to handle 30,000 vehicles per day (AADT), and would take approximately 15,000 vehicles off nearby I-495. However, the MassDPW raised the following concerns about extending the Loop Connector:
There is no question that some relief must be provided to the city of Lowell to alleviate the present river crossing congestion. A bypass of Lowell from MA 113 to US 3 is one possible solution. For travel from Lowell to Lawrence and points east, there appears to be sufficient corridor capacity, even though this demand would not be as well served without an extension of MA 213.
The extension of MA 213 as an expressway in Lowell-Lawrence area is not warranted on the basis of estimated traffic volumes. The estimates do indicate a need for an additional bridge over the Merrimack River near Lowell, and a new or improved arterial bypassing the city. Logical connecting points would be on MA 113 to the east and US 3 to the west of the city. Area residents have been asking for some relief of this type in recent years.
The western extension of the MA 213 Expressway to Lowell and Chelmsford was estimated to cost $35 million. Ultimately, the MassDPW decided not to include the extension in the final plan, concluding that "there was insufficient corridor demand to include a highway of expressway scale" by 1990.
OPPOSITION SURFACES: In 1969, the MassDPW revised the scope of the MA 213 project, this time only including the stretch from US 3 in Chelmsford to MA 113 in Dracut. Responding to the desire to reduce property takings - a desire voiced at public hearings - the MassDPW selected a new routing that cut through the northwest edge of Lowell, and penetrated Lowell-Dracut State Forest. Subsequently, the MassDPW entered into an agreement with the Massachusetts Department of Natural Resources to transfer approximately 95 acres of forest for the construction of the expressway.
As a result of new environmental regulations that came into effect in the early 1970's, the MassDPW was forced to reconsider its alternatives, particularly regarding the impacts of the proposed MA 213 on the Lowell-Dracut State Forest and two historic properties (the "Long House" and the Middlesex Canal). The FHWA also requested that the MassDPW include the entire length of the proposed route - from US 3 in Chelmsford to I-93 in Methuen - in the environmental studies.
In 1974, the MassDPW released the "Lowell Transportation Planning Study," which restated the case for a new bridge crossing at Chelmsford and a northerly bypass of Lowell, but did not justify construction of an expressway from Dracut to Methuen. This led to the release of the draft environmental impact statement the following year. However, after contentious public hearings, the state shelved the MA 213 extension plan permanently in 1976.
SOURCES: "A Report of Progress," Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1962); Recommended Highway and Transit Plan, Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1968); "Report on the Status of the Federal-Aid Highway Program," Committee on Public Works, U.S. Senate (1970); "Route 213: Draft Environmental Impact and 4(f) Statement," Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1975); "Corridor Public Hearings for Route 213," Massachusetts Department of Public Works (June 1976); Michael Adams; John Carr; Dan Moraseski; Ron Newman; Scott Oglesby; Paul Schlichtman; Alexander Svirsky.
MA 213 shield by Barry L. Camp. Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.