Most people have little understanding of Boston's Bid Dig except it is expensive and has significant problems. Most people even think that the Big Dig is a tunnel project. Well, the Big Dig includes roadway tunnels but it is not a tunnel only project.
Boston's traffic congestion dates back to the late 1800's. A solution to traffic congestion was an elevated highway. Although construction on this elevated highway started in 1951 it was actually conceived in the 1930s. This elevated highway which was to be known as "The Green Monster" because of its size and color became "an eight-year ordeal of destruction and upheaval for some of Boston's poorest neighborhoods" (1). It demolished 1,000 residential/commercial structures and displaced 20,000 residences. The "Green Monster" divided Boston from its waterfront with its 40-foot high, 200-foot wide, and 3.7-mile long metal structure.
John Volpe who was the commissioner of Public Works in 1952 indicated that he "would never build anything that ugly" and stopped the construction of the Central Artery. In its place he built the world's widest vehicle tunnel, the South Station or Dewey Square Tunnel, which "became an inspiration" in addressing Boston's traffic congestion. Side note: following John Volpe's statement that perhaps some highways are not as pleasant as cities, Gary Trietsch (the current TxDOT Houston District Engineer) has indicated that "Houston is a nice city once we get off the highways."
The Green Monster was open to traffic in 1959, "...the elevated highway's 34 off and on ramps, totaling 4.3 miles, choked the 3.7 miles of roadway." (1) This combination proved to be a recipe for more traffic congestion and accidents.
The development and implementation of the Big Dig is credited to Frederick Salvucci, who was the state's Secretary of Transportation, and Bill Reynolds, a contractor/engineer and graduate of MIT. In 1987 the Big Dig was approved for federal funding.
It is reported that the name was inspired by the "Big Ditch" which was used in reference to Panama's Canal.
Although early in the project Boston's Big Dig was estimated to cost $2.6 Billion, the final cost was over $14 Billion. This made the Big Dig the most expensive public works project in US history. It is this elevated cost and problems with the project that gives people the idea that the Big Dig is a very expensive roadway tunnel project and that it has many problems.
Some highlights of Boston's Big Dig include:
- Ted Williams Tunnel - 8,500 Feet long and 95,000 vehicles per day.
- Parks and Urban Restoration - Over 300 acres of landscaped and restored open spaces including Spectacle Island a 121-acre public park.
- Slurry Walls - Over 26,000 linear feet.
- I-90/I-93 Interchange - 29 Traffic lanes with three levels of viaduct and two levels of tunnels
- Charles River Crossing Bridge - 1457 Foot long
Conclusively, Boston's Big Dig, although thought to be a transportation project, should also be considered to be an urban renewal project since it generated over 300 acres of public space. In today's global market quality urban spaces is a key element in attracting corporate offices and qualified work forces.
Discovery Channel reporting on the Big Dig Link
(1) The Big Dig by Dan McNichol