F our decades ago, the two of us were part of an extraordinary process that reinvented the way the state thinks about transportation and set the stage for an economic revival that we continue to enjoy today. That process was triggered by one of the most politically courageous decisions made by any modern Massachusetts governor: Governor Francis W. Sargent’s 1970 moratorium on new highway construction in Greater Boston.
In the late 1960s, business, labor, and other powerful interests believed building highways was essential to address traffic congestion and spur the moribund economy. But a diverse collection of opponents, initially focused on their own neighborhoods or particular causes, responded by coordinating their efforts and becoming not just anti-highway but pro-smart planning. Urban and suburban, working-class white and black, environmentalists and parish priests, this unlikely coalition convinced Sargent to change direction. “Nearly everyone was sure highways were the only answer to transportation problems,” the governor noted. “We were wrong.”