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December 26, 2007
"The Big Dig" is Done
The nation's biggest urban road building project in history is finally - finally - coming to an end.
The Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project - the official name of the boondoggle that became known as "The Big Dig" in Boston, becomes "officially" complete at the end of the year with the expiration of the contracts that bound the partners - Bechtel and the MTA - together.
The project was so complex it's been likened to performing open heart surgery on a patient while the patient is wide awake. Officially launched in 1987 with an estimated budget of $2.8 billion, the project's costs ballooned over the years, reaching a depressing $14.6 billion by the time it was complete. Wikpedia details some of the problems over the years with the project:
Some didn't know if they'd live to see it end. Enza Merola had a front row seat on the Big Dig from the front window of her pastry shop — stacked neatly with tiramisu, sfogliatelle and brightly colored Italian cookies — in Boston's North End. During the toughest days of the project, the facade of Marie's Pastry Shop, named after her sister, was obscured from view. The only way customers could find the front door was along a treacherous path through heavy construction.
"For a while we thought we weren't going to make it," Merola said. "But you know, we hung in there."
The Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project — as the Big Dig is officially known — has its roots in the construction of the hulking 1950's era elevated Central Artery that cut a swath through the center of Boston, lopping off the waterfront from downtown and casting a shadow over some of the city's oldest neighborhoods. Almost as soon as the ribbon was cut on the elevated highway in 1959, many were already wishing it away.
The Big Dig has been the most expensive highway project in the U.S. Although the project was estimated at $2.8 billion in 1985 (in 1982 dollars), over $14.6 billion had been spent in federal and state tax dollars as of 2006. The project has incurred criminal arrests, escalating costs, death, leaks, and charges of poor execution and use of substandard materials. The Massachusetts Attorney General is demanding contractors refund taxpayers $108 million for "shoddy work." Just last year, a motorist died when some concrete panels collapsed. Inspections revealed substandard construction - a charge that plagued the project almost from the beginning.
The federal contribution to the project? $8.55 billion. Your tax dollars at work.