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This 2015 photo shows the eastbound Storrow Drive at the exit for Kenmore Square (Charlesgate / Bowker Overpass). (Photo by Steve Anderson.)


2.0 miles (3.2 kilometers)

Passenger cars only. Height restrictions apply.

BUILDING THE CHARLES RIVER ESPLANADE: The first mention of a highway along Boston's Charles River waterfront came in 1929, when the newly created Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) hired landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff to devise plans for "Charlesbank." The Charlesbank development was a comprehensive plan to widen the waterfront park designed by noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, and supported originally in the 1900s and 1910s by prominent lawyer, investment banker, and Boston City Council member James Storrow. In addition to new playground space, marinas, and bathing facilities, the updated plan called for a four-lane, grade-separated parkway for automobile-exclusive use. The parkway was to stretch from the Longfellow Bridge west to the Boston University Bridge, where it was to connect to Soldiers Field Road.

When James Storrow died in 1926, his wife, Helen Obsorne Storrow, became active in the plans for Charlesbank. In 1931, Storrow $1 million to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to complete the Charlesbank development, with the stipulation that none of the widened parkland be used for a highway. Despite the objections raised by Storrow, city officials and business leaders continued to press for a waterfront highway. In 1936, the Boston Chamber of Commerce announced a set of recommendations designed to improve traffic flow, and in turn increase business activity and real estate values. The highway, which was planned initially as "Embankment Road," was singled out by the Chamber such that it formed a subcommittee to petition the city for its construction. 

AN EARLY PIECE OF THE 1948 HIGHWAY PLAN: Plans for the waterfront highway regained momentum soon after Helen Storrow died in 1944. The proposed Embankment Road was described as a key part of the state's 1948 Master Highway Plan for the Boston Metropolitan Area as follows:

The traffic analysis indicates a very heavy desire line paralleling the Charles River Basin. Much of this traffic is predominantly local in character, and is now using Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street. There is considerable cross conflict on these streets which delays the major stream of traffic moving eat and west.

To improve this situation, the Metropolitan District Commission has proposed the construction of a new facility, a six-lane divided highway of modified limited-access design for the use of passenger automobiles. This plan includes the extension of the existing Embankment Road along the Charles River as far as Bay State Road near the Cottage Farm Bridge.

This project, in supplementing the Belt Route, will serve as useful function in moving traffic between downtown Boston and areas which cannot otherwise be served by existing highways or the expressways, and it is recommended that it be included as an essential part of the Master Highway Plan.

The proposed 2.0-mile-long highway, which was described in the report as "Embankment Road Extension," was to be a six-lane controlled access parkway. The parkway, which was to be built under the auspices of the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), the agency overseeing the city's parks, was to cost $6.2 million. Upon opening, it was estimated to accommodate 30,000 vehicles per day (AADT), and by the ultimate design year of 1970, it was expected to carry 45,000 vehicles per day.

The initial push for the parkway failed in the 1948 legislative session, but in 1949, construction of the parkway was approved by the Massachusetts State Legislature after four and a half hours of debate. The Speaker of the Massachusetts State House, Thomas P. ("Tip") O'Neill, who went on to reprise this role decades later in the US House of Representatives, saved the bill against Republicans in the state legislature who sought to remove "Embankment Road" from the state's $100 million highway program. By the time of passage, the expected cost of the highway had risen nearly 30% to $8 million.

This 1959 photo shows Storrow Drive looking east toward the Copley Square (Clarendon Street) exit. (Photo from the Nick DeWolf photo archive []; maintained by Steve Lundeen at Flickr.)

This 2003 photo shows the "Reverse Curve" sign mounted from the Longfellow Bridge that warned westbound Storrow Drive motorists of a "reverse curve" ahead, but over the years was altered by graffiti taggers to read "Reverse the Curse." This referred to the "Curse of the Bambino" and the World Series drought for the Boston Red Sox following Babe Ruth's trade to the New York Yankees in the 1919-1920 off-season. When the "curse" was lifted after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, Governor Mitt Romney altered the sign in a ceremony to read, "Reversed the Curse." The sign has since been removed. (Photo by Steve Alpert,

BUILDING THE RIVERFRONT PARKWAY: Construction of what was then known as "Embankment Road" began on October 10, 1949, as workers removed trees and relocated an eight-foot-wide sewer line to the planned alignment of the parkway. The parkway, which had a speed limit of 35 MPH, was built with the following lane configurations:

  • Soliders Field Road east the Charlesgate interchange, including the Charlesgate / Kenmore Square intechange: two lanes in each direction

  • Charlesgate / Kenmore Square interchange east to the Copley Square interchange: three lanes in each direction

  • Through the Copley Square interchange: two through lanes in each direction, with a tunnel under the interchange for eastbound traffic

  • Copley Square interchange east to the Charles Circle (Government Circle / Longfellow Bridge) interchange): three lanes in each direction

  • Through the Charles Circle interchange: three through lanes eastbound, two through lanes westbound

  • Charles Circle interchange to Leverett Circle interchange: three lanes in each direction

The first section of the parkway, which now had the "Storrow Drive" designation over the objection of the late Helen Storrow, was opened to traffic in November 1950. The initial segment covered the western two-thirds of the route from Soldiers Field Road east to Dartmouth Street, where temporary entrance and exit ramps were built. A three-block long extension was opened east to the Copley Square interchange at Beacon Street in January 1951. On June 15, 1951, when Governor Paul Dever held an official ribbon-cutting ceremony, most of Storrow Drive had been completed, except for two sections: a tunnel under the Copley Square interchange for eastbound traffic, and ramps connecting to and from the Charles Circle interchange. This work was completed in November 1952. By the time Storrow Drive had been completed in its entirety to Leverett Circle, it already had reached its 1970 design capacity.

POST-COMPLETION IMPROVEMENTS: Following completion of Storrow Drive, additional projects included the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge, a curved girder footbridge completed in 1953 that was dedicated to the longtime conductor of the Boston Pops, whose concerts took place along the Esplanade. At the eastern end of Storrow Drive, a twin-tube tunnel connecting the Leverett Circle to the John F. Fitzgerald Expressway / Central Artery (I-93) opened in 1954, coinciding with the completion of the Central Artery and the nearby High Bridge. Including improvements, the cost of Storrow Drive had doubled to $16 million.

An elaborate interchange with the Charlesgate had been planned for Storrow Drive since it opened in 1952. This plan also called for the construction of a half-mile-long overpass connecting Storrow Drive over Charlesgate Park and the Boston and Albany Railroad right-of-way to Boylston Street and the Fenway. This connecting highway was delayed for more than a decade due to increased costs related to construction of the original Storrow Drive, residual steel shortages following the Korean War, and a lack of coordination between the MDC and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which planned to build its extension from Weston (the 1957 terminus of the Mass Pike / I-90) east into downtown Boston along the Boston and Albany Railroad right-of-way. With work underway on the Massachusetts Turnpike extension, the MDC approved a revised plan for the Charlesgate overpass, which included accommodation for the Mass Pike right-of-way and a partial interchange at Commonwealth Avenue (northbound exit, southbound entrance). Construction of the connecting highway, which was renamed the Bowker Overpass after the former MDC Commissioner, began in 1963, and was completed on December 17, 1965. Importantly, the Bowker Overpass was completed one year before Section 4(f) of the Federal Highway Act, which placed severe restrictions on highway construction through parkland, became law.

NOT AN APRIL FOOL'S JOKE: On April 1, 1960, a soup-like mixture of cement and construction aggregate burst through the road surface on Storrow Drive near the Boston University Bridge, creating geysers shooting nine feet into the air. The geysers, which closed portions of Storrow Drive and Soldiers Field Road for nearly a week, resulted from construction work to build a new $6 million sewer line some 15 feet below the roadway surface. Subsequent excavation work found wood pilings and granite blocks from the old Cottage Farm Bridge, which was demolished after the completion of the Boston University Bridge in 1928, and even old cider jugs.

This 2009 photo shows the eastbound Storrow Drive approaching the Copley Square tunnel. Traffic bound for Copley Square exits right, while through traffic bound for Leverett Circle and the Central Artery (I-93) stays to the left. (Photo by David Golub,

FORMER ROUTE DESIGNATIONS: As Storrow Drive opened, Routes C-1 and C-9 were diverted from city streets onto the new parkway. The state signed Route C-1 and Route C-9 as alternate routes through the city of Boston, though maintenance of those routes were assigned to other jurisdictions. In this case, the MDC maintained jurisdiction over Routes C-1 and C-9.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Works (MassDPW) removed the C-1 and C-9 designations in 1971, replacing them with the US 1 designation. In 1989, the MassDPW removed the US 1 designation from all MDC roadways, including Storrow Drive, the VFW Parkway, and the Jamaicaway, as none of these roadways were open to commercial traffic. The US 1 designation was shifted thereafter onto I-93 from Dedham north to Charlestown.

PLANNED IMPROVEMENTS: Since 2003, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which was formed through the merger of the MDC and the state's Department of Environmental Management, has had jurisdiction over Storrow Drive. The two exceptions to the DCR's jurisdiction are the eastbound tunnel under the Copley Square interchange, and the Bowker Overpass leading from the Charlesgate / Kenmore Square interchange, both of which are under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT). According to the DCR and MassDOT, Storrow Drive carries about 130,000 vehicles per day (AADT).

In 2007, the DCR studied proposals for the deteriorating Copley Square tunnel. According to Cranston Rogers, who was a longtime structural engineer for MassDPW, the Copley Square tunnel did not receive waterproofing that later tunnel projects received, making it more susceptible to water damage. The state studied the following alternatives:

  • REHABILITATION: This alternative would rehabilitate and add waterproofing to the existing tunnel and ramps. However, there would be no change in mainline or ramps capacity, nor would there be any additional safety improvements. Projected cost: $52 million. Completion time: 2-1/2 years.

  • TUNNEL REMOVAL AND NEW SURFACE HIGHWAY: Under this alternative, the eastbound tunnel would be filled in and replaced by a new surface roadway carrying the eastbound lanes of Storrow Drive. A new eastbound surface exit ramp also would be built at Back Bay / Beacon Street to replace the existing eastbound tunneled ramp. The proposal would include construction of a new Arthur Fiedler pedestrian bridge to the Esplanade. Projected cost: $80 million. Completion time: 3-1/2 years.

  • EXPANDED TUNNEL: Under this alternative, a new twin-tube tunnel carrying both directions of Storrow Drive would replace the existing single-tube eastbound tunnel. A landscaped area would be built atop the new twin-tube tunnel to the Charles River, the Esplanade, and the Hatch Shell, while the existing Arthur Fiedler pedestrian bridge would be dismantled. Projected cost: $130 million-$200 million, including the cost of building a temporary roadway just north of the existing roadway. Completion time: 4-1/2 years.

Plans also are being discussed about the future of the Bowker Overpass connecting to Storrow Drive. These discussions took on added urgency in 2009 when a football-sized chunk of concrete fell on a passing car, and again in 2011 when a one-foot-wide, 12-foot-long pothole formed on the elevated roadway. One plan calls for rehabilitating the half-mile length of the overpass, while another plan would replace the existing viaduct with two shorter viaducts over Storrow Drive and the Mass Pike / MBTA right-of-way; under this plan, the existing grade separations over Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street would be replaced by signalized intersections.

In 2015, work began on replacing the Frances Appleton Footbridge, which was named after the second wife of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and crosses Storrow Drive just southwest of the Longfellow Bridge. The $12.5 million, 752-foot-long replacement footbridge, which was part of the $200 million Longfellow Bridge rehabilitation project, was completed on August 31, 2018, one year behind schedule.

This 2015 photo shows the westbound Storrow Drive at the exit for Cambridge Street (Central Square / Mass Pike). Storrow Drive continues west as Soldiers Field Road. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

SOURCES: "Plan Outlined To Aid Traffic," The Boston Globe (11/24/1936); "Plan Eight Boston Speed Highways," The Boston Globe (2/15/1948); "Legislative Body Oks $6,200,000 Boston Parkway," The Boston Globe (3/23/1948); "New Charles River Embankment Road Killed in Senate," The Boston Globe (5/25/1948); Master Highway Plan for the Boston Metropolitan Area, Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1948); "Start of Many Master Plan Highways in 1950 Forecast," The Boston Globe (3/04/1949); "Embankment Road Approved by House in Stormy Session" by Samuel Cutler, The Boston Globe (4/29/1949); "Will Embankment Road Ease Downtown Traffic?" by Gene R. Casey, The Boston Globe (5/01/1949); "Tearing Up of Esplanade Begun for New Highway," The Boston Globe (10/11/1949); "Completed Section of Storrow  Drive To Open Friday," The Boston Globe (10/31/1950); "Embankment Road Work Recalls Filling of Back Bay 95 Years Ago" by Stanley Howard, The Boston Globe (11/04/1950); "Embankment Road Opens One Way to Beacon at Noon," The Boston Globe (1/17/1951); "Embankment Road Opens Tomorrow to Two-Way Traffic," The Boston Globe (6/14/1951); "First Steps in Breaking the Charles Street Bottleneck for 50,000 Autos" by K.S. Bartlett, The Boston Globe (11/16/1952); "Storrow's Geysers Plugged--Temporarily" by A.S. Plotkin, The Boston Globe (4/06/1960); Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston" by Nancy S. Seasholes, MIT Press (2003); "State Narrows Options on Crumbling Storrow Drive Tunnel" by Mac Daniel, The Boston Globe (6/21/2007); "Storrow Tunnel May Need Replacing" by Michael Levenson, The Boston Globe (7/24/2007); "Revived Plan for Detour on Esplanade Stirs Outrage" by David Abel, The Boston Globe (8/16/2007); "The Parkway Known As Storrow Drive" by David Boeri, The Boston Globe (7/17/2009); Charles River Esplanade Study Report, Boston Landmarks Commission-City of Boston (2009); "Pothole Renews Debate on Overpass" by Eric Moskowitz, The Boston Globe (3/12/2011); "Storrow Drive Tunnel To Close Weekday Nights" by Martine Powers, The Boston Globe (10/08/2012); "Charlesgate: Palimpsest of Urban Planning" by Allan Lasser, New Errands: The Undergraduate Journal of American Studies (Fall 2013); "The Evolution of Storrow Drive" by Dialynn Dwyer, The Boston Globe (7/29/2015); "New Pedestrian Bridge Begins To Swoop Across Storrow Drive," Universal Hub (10/28/2017); "Footbridge Over Storrow Drive Remains Unfinished Ahead of July 4 Festivities," WBZ-TV (7/03/2018); Esplanade Association; Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation; Massachusetts Department of Transportation; George Sanborn.

  • MA C-1 and MA C-9 shields based on design by Barry L. Camp.
  • US 1 shield by Ralph Herman.
  • Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.





  • Storrow Drive exit list by Steve Anderson.

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