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Route 3A turns 100

A century ago, autumn of 1923, a man named William Williams plotted a bunch of routes to help motorists navigate the region. Does the Burlington route look familiar?

State adds 11 routes August 1923The Burlington route formed the basis for today’s Route 3A, which begins at this little red schoolhouse in Plymouth and heads north . . .

Start of Route 3A at Little Red Schoolhouse in Plymouth

. . . and eventually reaches Burlington, where it randomly alternates between two and four lanes, then suddenly one lane when you need to squeeze past the daily crash scene.

Cambridge St and Winn St. accident1966 accident scene, Burlington MA

It ends in Tyngsboro at the New Hampshire border. On Google Earth, a New Hampshire representative in full uniform escorts you over the line.

Route 3A in Tyngsboro at the New Hampshire border, with appropriate escort

So Route 3A is a 97-mile odyssey with an odd gap in the middle. That’s the stretch between Neponset and Burlington, where Route 3A goes incognito because it shares the same asphalt with its big brother, Route 3 without the A.

Big brother Route 3 has two sections:

  1. US Route 3 (Cambridge to Canada)
  2. Massachusetts Route 3 (Cambridge to Cape Cod)

Here’s US Route 3:

It begins on Memorial Drive at the Harvard Bridge, also known as the Mass. Ave. Bridge, and heads toward Harvard Square  . . . US Route 3 begins in Cambridge

. . . and eventually zigzags through Burlington on its way north. Notice Route 3A comes out of hiding as soon as big brother hops on Route 128. Free at last!

US Route 3 in Burlington, MA

US Route 3 ends at the Canadian border on the Daniel Webster Highway, where Daniel Webster himself decides whether you can cross.

DW at Canadian border


The other part of big brother, Massachusetts Route 3, ever touches Burlington at all.

It starts at the same spot in Cambridge but heads the other way, toward the Museum Of Science.

It ends at the Sagamore Bridge to Cape Cod, with appropriate signage for anyone who drives the entire stretch.

Sagamore Bridge


Editor’s note: If you’re reading this article on a cell phone, it might not display correctly. Scroll to the very bottom and tap “exit mobile version.”

8 thoughts on “Route 3A turns 100 Leave a comment

  1. This was very cool … thank you for putting it together and sharing … as always great and unique Burlington content!

  2. Will route 3 (where it meets 128) ever be redesigned?? Who thought this was a good idea? Adds10-15 minutes to my commute most days.

  3. If I remember reading correctly, route 3 (not 3A) was supposed to go from Burlington through Boston and connect with the South Shore part for one long road. This was cancelled in the 70s I believe.

    Thanks for the article!

  4. “On Google Earth, a New Hampshire representative in full uniform escorts you over the line.” LOL!

  5. Comments describing pictures of early Burlington called it”State Road” when it was a dirt road. Over the years there have been changes made to make the road have less curves. Arlington Rd.,Chestnut St., County Rd..

  6. There was a nice 30-year stretch until the expressway in the 50’s when it was US Route 3 (after NE-6) all the way through! Would love to see some pictures of US 3 badged in Burlington

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