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STARTS & STOPS

South Bay shoppers don't rush home with their treasures

We return this week to Interstate 93 southbound, the newly added fourth lane, and the continuing backups from the South Bay Shopping Center merger that have commuters fuming.

It has not improved. In some ways, it’s worse. And at the end of this blurb, we still don’t have any real answers.

The background is simple: Big Dig officials added a fourth travel lane to I-93 south, which took away a key add-a-lane from traffic coming from Frontage Road near the shopping center. Drivers trying to get home via that route are spending 45 minutes to an hour in creeping traffic while waiting to enter the interstate. The ride routinely took minutes under the old configuration.

The news is that this chaos is taking place because the new fourth lane on I-93 south is practically undrivable and downright dangerous.

As we headed gleefully to work on Friday morning, the Corolla’s windshield was pinged by large pieces of asphalt from the rotting right lane as a confused minivan driver swerved and weaved in front of us, trying to figure out where the lane was. The markings were made invisible by the deplorable condition of the roadway.

Earlier in the week, doing our diligence, we purposefully pulled the trusty Corolla into the far-right lane and, but for the Jersey barriers, had no idea where the heck we were going. We felt like Luke Skywalker behind the visor trying to use the Force to hit that little obnoxious orb with his lightsaber.

In parts of Montana, on back-country roads 76 miles from the nearest light bulb, things are smoother.

‘‘I wanted to write and warn everyone of the very dangerous condition of the far-right lane on I-93 south between East Berkeley and Andrew Square,’’ wrote Mark of Swampscott. ‘‘The newly configured lanes are barely recognizable due to lack of proper lane markings. More importantly, though, is the poor road condition in the far-right lane where the Jersey barriers were removed. There are major ruts in the roadway that make for very dangerous travel. Are there plans — soon, I hope — to repave and reline this stretch of I-93 south? There is a major catastrophe waiting to happen here!’’

So we called Big Dig spokesman Doug Hanchett on Friday and told him our brilliant theory.

If the right lane can’t be properly filled and smoothed and lined during these inclement months, how about temporarily moving the Jersey barriers back over the lane and giving those screaming folks jammed around South Bay a better ride home?

Our rationale was simple. The right lane as it stands is dangerous. The detail officers (up to five seen last week) required to control the traffic mess in front of South Bay Shopping Center would no longer be needed (that saves something like $1.5 million, doesn’t it?). Although the situation would change again come spring, at least the following few weeks would be somewhat pain-free.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Sorry to disappoint, but we’re still awaiting an official answer from the Big Dig as to what they will and can do after bringing this question before them two weeks in a row. We thought you should know.

Hanchett said he did not know if the paving in that lane, which is 10 years old, could be done anytime soon or would have to wait for spring. But he had no official answer for us last week.

In an earlier conversation, he said Big Dig officials would probably be reluctant to make any changes in the area to suit drivers stuck around the shopping center, a problem he said earlier could be solved by commuters changing their routes home and using the new Essex Street onramp to I-93 south downtown. As for eliminating the bad right lane, Hanchett said it would probably have an impact on southbound I-93 traffic, which he said was flowing smoothly since its introduction.

We’ll come back to this next week.

Savin Hill meets

At the request of the community, the MBTA will meet Wednesday to discuss and provide an update on the rehabilitation project at Savin Hill. The meeting will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Blessed Mother Theresa School (the former St. Williams School), 100 Savin Hill Ave., in Dorchester.

T personnel and the project’s contractor, Barletta Heavy Division, will be on hand to answer questions.

Creative fit

Last year, the Texas Transportation Institute said that the average Boston driver spends 51 hours a year commuting to and from work.

This year, according to a Lemelson-MIT Invention Index study, 20 percent of those surveyed said they do their most creative thinking in the car.

If either of these surveys is even remotely true, then someone out there on the Pike or I-93 has either filled their cellphone’s voice memo with a jabbered version of the Great American Novel or discovered that Starbucks and angst can cure the common cold.

Merton Flemings, 75, director of the Lemelson-MIT Program, named after the late inventor Jerome H. Lemelson, found his inspiration on the road. Specifically, on the Massachusetts Turnpike, outside of Auburn, where he understood for the first time ‘‘what determines the form of a particular microstructure or substructure in cast metals.’’

He said the memory of the event was so important to him that he could probably recall the exact tree he was passing by at the time the thought arrived.

It was a discovery that led to improved ways to produce continuous casting and metal parts, particularly for critical applications like airplanes andtoday’s lightweight automobiles.

‘‘It’s why people talk about the light bulb coming on,’’ Flemings said. ‘‘But there is that moment when suddenly things seem to come together for no apparent reason for the inventor.’’

‘‘You have to believe that we [meaning Boston] have been a highly creative, productive people,’’ Flemings said. ‘‘At the same time, a lot of us are very worried about where we’re headed. There are pressures all around us taking away from the quiet time ..... people need to be creative.’’

‘‘This nation has led, and still leads, in technological creativity,’’ he said. ‘‘When you look at this nation, you find a few specific spots, such as Silicon Valley and the Boston area, where much of this innovation has come from. Whether we can give a causal relationship to our traffic may be another issue, but we surely are creative. And if the 51 hours in traffic helps that, then it’s a wonderful thing.’’

Buried history

With so much changing in the transportation system of this historic town, a wonderful piece of Boston’s transit past has been uncovered in the bowels of South Station.

As part of the renovations taking place there, a piece of wall along the Red Line’s platform was recently pulled away to reveal a beautiful, blue-and-white, terrazzo-tiled sign for the long-gone South Station Under, which opened in the grand olde year of 1900, according to State Transportation Library historian George Sanborn.

Thanks to Lisa of South Boston for bringing it to our attention. We love this stuff, and it’s too often ignored or covered up in this town.

‘‘A beautiful (original?) mosaic name tablet — ‘‘South Station Under’’ — is currently exposed on the South Station Red Line inbound platform. Please tell me the T is planning to keep this striking piece of history on display,’’ she wrote.

Thanks to your note, Lisa, we wrote the T and, yes, the sign is set to be saved.

‘‘It is the MBTA’s intent to save and restore the mosaic tile display,’’ wrote MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo. ‘‘The MBTA has directed the contractor to obtain a price for restoring the chipped and damaged tile pieces.’’

The word ‘‘Under’’ was placed after just about every stop on Boston’s relatively new underground subway, a way to tell passengers new to the system that the station was, in fact, underground. System maps were rarer in those days, so the more the name said about a station’s location, the better.

Asked when the practice stopped, Sanborn said ‘‘they probably conveniently forgot about it.’’

Sanborn said he plans to ask MBTA officials to help protect more such signs on the system. A fine example of a long-ignored piece of history is inside Government Center station along the Blue Line. Near the airport-end of the platform, behind a multicolored enamel sign for Government Center, Sanborn says you can peer behind to see a similar red-and-yellow, tiled sign for the long-gone Scollay Under station.

Can’t get there .....

  • The Mass. Pike east between Exit 22 (Prudential/Copley) and South Boston will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. tonight through Friday morning and from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Friday through next Sunday morning. Direct access to the Ted Williams Tunnel from I-93 north, Frontage Road, and South Boston will remain open.

  • The Frontage Road northbound onramp to the Mass. Pike westbound at the Broadway Bridge will be closed from 10 p.m. Wednesday to 5 a.m. Thursday and from 10 p.m. Saturday to 7 a.m. next Sunday morning.

  • The ramp at Exit 20 (Mass. Pike/Logan) from I-93 north to the Mass. Pike will be closed from 10 p.m. Wednesday to 5 a.m. Thursday and from 10 p.m. Saturday to 7 a.m. next Sunday morning. The left-hand ramp from Exit 20 to Frontage Road northbound and South Station will remain open.

  • The Mass. Pike west in South Boston will be closed from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 12:01 a.m. to 7 a.m. Saturday. The onramp to the Mass. Pike west from D Street will also be closed.

  • The onramp from Congress Street to I-93 north in South Boston and the Mass. Pike westbound Exit 24 to I-93 north will be closed from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 12:01 a.m. to 7 a.m. Saturday.

  • I-93 south over the Charles River will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Friday morning and from 1 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Saturday. The onramps to I-93 south from Storrow Drive, the Tobin Bridge, and City Square will also be closed.

  • The Storrow Drive onramp to I-93 south will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday morning.

  • I-93 north at Exit 20 (Mass. Pike/Logan) will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Friday morning and from 1 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Saturday. The ramps at Exit 20 to the MassPike east and west, and the onramps to I-93 north at Massachusetts Avenue and at Broadway will also be closed.

  • The tunnel under Leverett Circle that take drivers from Exit 26 (Storrow/North Station) off I-93 south to Storrow westbound will be closed from 1:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Access from Exit 26 off I-93 south to Nashua Street/Leverett Circle will remain open.

  • Exit 26 (Storrow/Cambridge) off I-93 north will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday morning.

  • The Sumner Tunnel onramp to Storrow Drive will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday morning. Sumner Tunnel access to I-93 north will remain open.

  • The underpass from Storrow Drive east to I-93 north and the Tobin Bridge will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday morning.

  • The Haymarket onramp to I-93 north will be closed from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

  • The Haymarket onramp to I-93 north and the Callahan Tunnel will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday morning.

  • The Atlantic Avenue onramp to I-93 north will be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday.

  • The ramps from the Tobin Bridge and Rutherford Avenue/City Square to I-93 south and Storrow Drive will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday morning.

  • The Sumner Tunnel onramp to I-93 north will be closed from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

  • The Essex Street onramp to I-93 south will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Friday morning and from 11 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday.

    Complain to us at starts@globe.com. Don’t forget to send us your hometown. The column can also be found at www.boston.com/news/local/startsandstops/. Our mailing address is Starts & Stops, P.O. Box 55819, Boston, MA 02205-5819. 

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