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Last Car Takes Central Artery, As Long-Delayed Tunnel Opens

By Raphael Lewis and Mac Daniel

THE BOSTON GLOBE -- The old northbound Central Artery bowed out to its subterranean successor Saturday after a half-century in service, but not without frustrating thousands of drivers one last time with a monumental traffic jam.

Preceded by a brief ceremony attended by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a grandson of the man for whom the John F. Fitzgerald Expressway was named, the switch came a day earlier than originally announced. The Interstate 93 north tunnel opened at 8:07 p.m. as state troopers started blocking off the old route and the words, “The 93 northbound, the new 93 northbound, is now open,” crackled over their radios.

Matthew Amorello, the Turnpike Authority chairman, greeted two vehicles at that point: the last to use the old route, and the first to use the new route.

The last car on the former Central Artery northbound was a Dodge Intrepid driven by a Wareham man who was taking friends to the airport. With a gaggle of reporters listening in, Amorello informed him he would be the last person to drive on the elevated Artery’s northbound side. The driver replied, “Is it safe?”

Amorello also handed a hat and map to Steve Landry of Manchester, N.H., whose Black Monte Carlo was the first through the new tunnel.

After that, Landry tooled through the tunnel with a police escort, as hard hat workers stood to the side and waved and photographed the moment. The car then crossed the Zakim Bridge and disappeared into the night.

Sean O’Neill, the Turnpike’s spokesman, said the moment was an emotional one, given the project’s love-hate relationship with the public. “Personally, it’s an amazing piece of history to be part of,” he said. “Words can’t express it. With all the challenges and the issues over the years, this is a great moment.”

But for many on the roads Saturday, the moment didn’t arrive nearly soon enough.

From about 8 a.m. until well after the evening opening, motorists coming in from the south were caught in a traffic jam that stretched into Milton, as vehicles were eventually herded into one lane for the entire downtown route.

Pete Sutton, an operations supervisor at Smart Route Systems, the driver information network, said the 9-mile trip from the Neponset River to the Tobin Bridge took at least an hour, and upward of 90 minutes, for most of the day.

“It wasn’t a record, but if you’re in one of those cars, you’re going crazy,” Sutton said.

Chris Hopper of Plymouth, who spent two hours driving from home to Causeway Street Saturday, called the situation “ridiculous.”

But two Boston University students, Donna Elimele and Tracy Horowitz -- who rode the elevated highway in a silver convertible with the top down -- got into the spirit of the occasion. “Now we’re part of history,” Elimele said. “That’s awesome.”