The Middle Circumferential Highway (that never happened)

In its 1968 comprehensive report “Recommended Highway and Transit Plan” the Massachusetts Department of Public Works (Mass DPW) proposed a new beltway around the Boston area that would be situated between MA 128 and I-495. The preferred, longer option for the Middle Circumferential Highway would have included a six-lane expressway from Framingham to Gloucester, cutting through the Ipswich River Sanctuary, Bradley Palmer State Park, Appleton Farms, the Pingree Reservation and Manchester-Essex Woods, with 1990 as the goal for completion of its construction.

1968 map from MassDPW

The report stated that “The only apparent hope of relieving Route 128 is a continuous circumferential highway close to Route 128 that is capable of providing a reasonable alternate route.” Earlier plans for I-95 that routed it through Boston had encountered strong community resistance, so the DPW adopted a strategy of carving expressways through farms and open space in the outlying suburbs. The map above shows two options in our area for the Middle Circumferential Highway.

  • Dashed lines indicate a route which would have begun at MA 3 in Norwell and ended at I-95 in Boxford. Although state highway officials refused to discuss details, it was widely believed that a section of the highway would closely follow existing Route 62 from Concord through Middleton.
  • The dotted lines in the above map indicate the longer preferred route which would have continued the highway along the Ipswich-Hamilton town line, ended at Rt. 128 in Gloucester, and would have seriously impacted protected wildlife areas at the Ipswich River Sanctuary, Bradley Palmer State Park, Appleton Farms, the Pingry estate and Manchester-Essex Woods.
Proposed route of the Central beltway.
The proposed Middle Circumferential Highway would have bisected several North Shore communities, connecting to MA-128 in Gloucester. Rough sketches indicate that the highway would have crossed Rt. 1 in Topsfield, bisected the Ipswich River Sanctuary and Bradley Palmer State Park, cut through Winthrop properties, crossed Highland Avenue and continued through Appleton Farms and the Pingree Reservation, then crossed Rt. 1A between Ipswich and Hamilton, continued through the Manchester-Essex Woods, and ended at Rt. 127 along the shoreline between Magnolia and Gloucester.

Although the North Shore section of the proposed middle beltway appeared on the Mass DPW long-range highway construction program as late as 1975, plans were abandoned due to resistance and environmental activism in communities that would have been affected. During this time period, Ipswich citizens successfully prevented construction of a nuclear power plant that was to have been built on Town Farm Road. The 66-mile shorter version of proposed beltway from Norwell to Boxford continued to appear on the Mass DPW long-range highway construction program until 1990.


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