What's in a name?

So the Mass. Turnpike finally got around to dedicating the leaky 93 tunnel under Boston after the esteemed former Speaker of the U.S. House Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, Jr. Interestingly, there wasn't a big to-do in dedicating it. Unlike the "great" public events where people got to walk across the Leonard P. Zakim (Bunker Hill) Bridge - don't get me started on how much I hate the fact that Bunker Hill is in that name - this one registered barely a blip in the news cycle. It was dedicated on Monday afternoon in the rotunda of the Boston Harbor Hotel, and the story certainly wasn't front-page news. Surprisingly, there were no suggestions of having the Boston Pops play inside the tunnel, as was suggested by Turnpike Chairman Matt Amorello when the northbound side was set to open in 2003.

Now that the tunnel was officially dedicated, and after a legislative fight on Beacon Hill that resulted in the federal government stepping in to name the project for Tip, the official name was unveiled at the entrance at the south side. It is the most unimaginative dedication I've seen. Granted, it's a lot better than a monstrous green sign the same as one telling people that Storrow Drive is exit 26, but this sign is made of individual stainless steel letters, and they have very little contrast with the bland concrete parapet they're affixed to. The first time I drove by it, I had to really focus to read it.

I can understand why the Pike chose something like stainless steel, because in this climate, any kind of paint coating on the letters would peel and other kinds of metal would rust. But there had to be something better. The Sumner tunnel has a nice Art Deco (or Art Nouveau) look to it. The O'Neill sign looks like it was pieced together with spare parts.

It's too bad, really, because it was O'Neill who pushed this project through in the 1980s during the Reagan Administration. Despite the fact that the price ballooned from $2.6 billion to $14.6 billion and that the tunnel leaks, how it was built while the existing highway remained operational overhead was a great feat of engineering. It is an underground monument to a lot of hard work by everyone from sand hogs to ironworkers to politicians like Tip. And it deserves a more fitting marker than a bunch of letters slapped on the side of a parapet.


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