How to drive to and from Logan without a toll

I’ll depart from my usual genre of pointless complaining to actually put up something of use. Well, at least of use to the 1% of my readers who live in Boston. (Which prompts the following Zen koan-like question: what is 1% of ten people?) So, if you don’t live here, may I suggest you read my fascinating take on Sarkozy’s fight with labor unions? Nothing entertains like dated editorials on French politics.

So, you live in Boston? You’ve probably figured out by now that the only thing Boston hates more than an outsider is an outsider in a car. There is a secret office of the mayoralty tasked solely with making life difficult for people who are visiting. They are the ones who make sure less than half the streets have signage, and of those that do, half are incorrect. They are also the creative minds behind the five-way-intersection-without-a-light. Not to mention my personal favorite: the InstaMergeâ„¢ whereby two (sometimes three) lanes suddenly turn into one. (Check out Route 2 entering Cambridge for a prime example. The first time it happened to me I thought I’d missed something. It took me three trips before I caught on that I was just no longer in civilization, and not suffering from occasional blackouts while driving.)

Boston is designed to be learned, not taught, and once the initial grieving process is completed, the truth is living here can be enjoyed as a series of small triumphs as you learn the ropes. What once held you back now holds back others, and the unintentional (or is it?) genius of Boston’s hostility to outsiders becomes apparent: the obscurity of the city is just a tax on newcomers, with the dividends going directly to the natives.

A perfect example of this is the toll tunnels and bridges to the airport. Blindly following the advice of the road signs leads one to pay about $7 in tolls when picking up a friend from Logan. However, it’s quite possible to pay nothing if you know which ones to use, though it’s hard to find them. I suspect this is not an accident. Fortunately, nobody reads this blog, so I’m not going to ruin the secret by publishing it here. (Note to my fellow Bostonians: if this blog actually starts getting more than 300 visitors per day, I promise I’ll take down this post.)

To get to Logan: This one is fairly easy and probably fairly well known. Take 93 South from any point north of Storrow Drive (or take Storrow Drive itself) and you have the option of the Callahan tunnel, which is toll-free outbound from the city to Logan. You can also access the Callahan tunnel from downdown Boston by following signs for Route 1A. Not only is this free, but it’s actually often quicker than taking the more advertized Route 90 East tunnel. If you have a GPS it will probably take this route if you ask for directions to Logan and tell it to avoid toll roads.

To get back from Logan: This is the hard one, and is best explained by a map. Here the evil Sumner tunnel and Tobin bridge duo conspire mightily against the thrifty driver. You need to drive towards Revere on Route 1A and take the first exit (it comes quickly). Take the Chelsea Street Bridge from Route 145 out of the airport. Then cut through the industrial blight and get to Route 99, where you’ll take the Malden Bridge to freedom. It’s a bit out of the way if you live in Boston, but actually quite direct if you live in Cambridge or north. I know this sounds confusing, and it’s even more so in real life, so just check the map I linked above. The best way to do this is to enter the route into your GPS ahead of time by telling it to go to the two bridges enroute to your final destination; the GPS will likely figure out the rest. (As an added bonus, you get a tour of Boston’s old working waterfront area, including the main food distribution centers and our energy infrastructure. If you’re like me, it’s fascinating to see the machinery behind the Boston economy, and it’s amazing that it it is hidden so well, so close. At some point maybe I’ll write an article with photos on all the interesting infrastructure hidden across the river in Chelsea.)

Granted, the return trip makes for about two miles of extra driving, but it’s not about the time or the measly $3.50, it’s about the moral victory. Enjoy. By the way, it’s one thing to publish this secret on the internet, but for godsakes don’t tell anybody about it.

26 thoughts on “How to drive to and from Logan without a toll

  1. Mere

    Excellent. You should have seen me try to get out of that place when we came to pick up my cousin and her new-to-the-US baby a few months back. There was “construction” at the toll area just outside the airport, so upon exit (and intention to take 90 to 93 north) you sidled right up to within 15 feet of the tolls but were required to continue past said tolls, take a 90 degree left, follow the ensuing road for about 5 blocks, turn RIGHT (if you can believe that) down a one-way street the likes of which would make any car or human cower in fear, merge onto a two-way street in the middle of what could only have been Winthrop, a place it would be difficult to access on purpose, and winding back, finally, in the direction of the original toll area, at which point you were to make a complete U turn in order to wait in line for the 1/5 of the tolls that were open in order to have yourself funneled finally toward 90 West, which you could really only hope would get you to 93 by that point, because god knows there weren’t any signs.

  2. Martha

    I flew into Logan in November after leaving for California a year before. After picking up the rental car (and a very little bit of encouragement from Mere) I headed North to NJC, ME. The exhiliration that followed can only be compared to an IndyCar driver navigating Belle Isle. I grabbed 1A to route 60 (avoiding tolls) were I was immediately faced with 3 consecutive rotaries, then onto the mother of all “instant merge” roads, the two lane route 1. If there is one thing that I know now that I didn’t know before my 5 years in Somerville/Cambridge (besides never to order a “reg-yuh-lah” coffee at Dunkin Donuts) is how to drive those highways like a #%$%! And they can NEVER take that away from me. Thanks Jonathan, I enjoyed the post (you may have already guessed), and your secret is safe with me.

  3. birge Post author

    Thanks, Martha! I really enjoyed your comment, especially the part about them never being able to take away our hard earned status as Mass drivers. When I first got here, I was horrified at the way people drove and hated it. Now, I look forward to it. It’s part practical transportation, part blood sport.

  4. Joe Mulloy

    Thursday I had to pick my mother up from Logan so I Googled to find out if it was possible to get out of Logan without paying a toll and this blog post popped up. So I guess the secret is out, at least for those familiar with basic Google-fu. I managed to follow your directions up until I was over the Chelsea street bridge, then I went straight when I should have gone right. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to print the directions so I didn’t have them in front of me. Eventually I found my way to Route 28 and took it North all the way to 128 since it was rush hour and 93 was a parking lot as usual.

    One small error in your directions is that you want to take Route 1A North, not Route 1, which as far as I could find isn’t directly accessible from Logan.

    Thanks for the Post, it saved me $3 in tolls. As you said it’s not so much about the money as it is the moral victory, this state already taxes us enough. It also got me around all the traffic on 93.

    1. Jonathan Post author

      Thanks for the feedback and correction, Joe. You’re right; it’s 1A that I should’ve written. I’ve updated the post.

  5. It's me

    Great, useful post; thanks very much. How does this route compare with mapquest.com’s (after choosing the option “Avoid tolls”; http://www.mapquest.com/maps?1pn=Logan+International+Airport+%28BOS%29&1c=East+Boston&1s=MA&1a=122+Harborside+Dr&1z=02128&1y=US&1l=42.36588&1g=-71.01799&1v=ADDRESS&1id=224177&2c=Watertown&2s=MA&2z=02472&2y=US&2l=42.3708&2g=-71.1772&2v=ZIP#b/maps/m:map:9:42.392702:-71.128521::::::1:1:::::::::/l:Logan+International+Airport+%28BOS%29:122+Harborside+Dr:East+Boston:MA:02128:US:42.36588:-71.01799:address::1:::224177/l:::Waltham:MA::US:42.3764:-71.236099:city:Middlesex+County:1:::/io:1:1::::f:no:en_US:M::/bl:/e)?

    1. Jonathan Post author

      Sorry for the delay in my reply. Your way works well going TO the airport, but you’re going to pay a toll to go back that way. I didn’t realize MapQuest could avoid tolls. That’s a nice feature. Try reversing the route and see what it gives you. I’m guessing it will suggest pretty much what I said. I just noticed that you did have MapQuest do the route from the airport, not to. So, I guess MapQuest’s data on what is a toll road is incomplete. I’ve found the same problem with my GPS in the car. They all know Route 90 has tolls, for example, but they don’t seem to know which tunnels and bridges do. Unfortunately, around Boston most of you money on tolls is spent on tunnels and bridges.

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  14. SEODr

    NEXT
    Drive onto I-93 heading south, either from Storrow Drive or some point north of Storrow. If you are driving to Logan from north of the Charles River, you are already on the right part of I-93.

    NEXT
    Take the Callahan Tunnel entrance from I-93. The tunnel emerges less than 1/3 of a mile from Logan Airport, so simply follow the signs from there.

    Step 3
    Return to Boston by first driving toward Revere on Route 1A, and take the first exit to the Chelsea Street Bridge out of the airport and across the river. Follow Williams and Beachem Street across Chelsea to the intersection with Route 99.

    NEXT
    Turn north onto Route 99 and cross the Malden Bridge to Charlestown. Follow Rutherford Avenue to Cambridge Street, and then follow the signs to get back on I-93 going south and back into Boston.

    Ok deep breath you made it!

    Enjoy your stay !

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  19. Michael

    I somehow missed the 1A exit that I was supposed to take and went right. I was following GPS. Somehow and it would need to be verified I ended up going of the cable bridge like I usually to and never paid a toll. Someone could check it out. I do not go to Logan that often.

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