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Modern History: Breaking New Ground... "The Big Dig"
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"The Big Dig"
The (7th Plus) Wonder of the World
 
Built To Solve A Modern-World Problem...
World-Class Traffic Congestion
 
 
Once Upon A Time... Boston had a traffic problem... It attempted to solve this problem with the construction of a road called, The Central Artery.  Unfortunately, the Artery created even more problems of a higher order... many not even traffic related: The City's own isolation from its historic waterfront. Isolated neighborhoods. Ugliness above ground. Uselessness underneath the elevated structure, as well.
 
No sooner had the elevated six-lane highway opened in 1959, and it started to become over-burdened; in fact, on/off ramps were soon closed to lessen the congestion. Designed to carry 75,000 vehicles per day, the Artery carried over THREE times this amount at the end of its "life." And, oh what a tortured life at that: Congestion over the entire commute and work day, plus accident rates 4X above urban averages. It's no big surprise that the same congestion, which plagued the Artery, plagued everything that was connected to it, including (and as lawyers love to add, "but not limited to") the two tunnels under Boston Harbor which connect the city with Logan Airport and north shore communities and the Mystic/Tobin Bridge, which also leads to the northern suburbs and states.
 
Boston's traffic flow had congestive failure! 
 
CODE BLUE: The Artery was clogged. Time was up for additional, hopeless, palliative treatments. It was time to go in... under, above, and around.  Figuratively and literally, it was time for major by-pass surgery.
 
THE REMEDY:  Something had to happen!  And more than one thing did.
 
First, the Central Artery/Tunnel Project... through too many interations, budgets, and personnel changes to mention here... came to life under the aegis of  the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, (This MTA is not to be confused with "THE MTA" (now the MBTA) off which "Charlie" of the famed Kingston Trio song could never depart due to a fare shortage).   As with most formal names, the CA/T Project was dubbed "The Big Dig"  --both affectionately... and derisively as its construction costs taxed both the resources of the Commonwealth and its people. 
 
The second thing that happened was (and has remained) that many companies and professional firms came to their collective senses; they moved out of Boston all together, or at least opened satellite offices.  The regional economics of this migration are vast... as building along the circumferential routes, especially I-495, increased dramatically when firms re-directed their commutes out of the city. 
 
So, as costly as the Big Dig expense ultimately may be, who can ever tally the actual cost of the old Artery's overload and bloated accident rate? Obviously, the dollar amount was greater than hundreds of millions... well exceeding billions over time.  Forget the missed connections, late deliveries, wasted fuel from gridlock, or lost revenues from companies migrations. Just consider 200,000 vehicles... carrying one person... delayed for 1 hour... at an average modest rate of $10.00 an hour... for decades... and one starts to peek at the productivity loss and financial damage cause by Boston's "urban embolism." 
 
Finally, there are also the unknowns:  Deaths due to response times, delayed by congestion, despite sirens and heroic attempts...  The long term effects of exposure to elevated carbon monoxide levels (the ultimate second smoke)...  And, the biological impacts of continually elevated adrenelin cause by entrapment.  People who traveled the Artery daily saw the latter displayed in drivers' road rage...  often not even malicious... just human beings "losing it" as their frustrated fight or flight instincts jumbled into chaos causing them to do both, simultaneous, with reckless abandon.    
 
Boston loves its history.  But, the old Central Artery's will neither be cherished or missed.  At best, the old Artery will be a college case study of "future shock."  In hindsight, it is easy to discredit the old Artery's design as poor urban planning.  However, one must remember:   While the late 50s may not seem that long ago... it was JUST during that decade in which the Interstate Road System, itself, came into being -- a result of President Eisenhower's experience (as the Allied Supreme Commander in WWII) with the German Autobahn.
 
In the 50s, super-highway construction was a new concept, designed around road grades and bridge clearances for military use, with secondary regard for an unprecedented expansion in vehicles and traffic. Even to this day, the mistakes such as clover-leaf interchanges without fly-overs continue to cripple travel causing the same negative economic impact as the old Artery inflected.  
 
Helen Keller is credited as having said "Worse than being blind, would be to be able to see, but not have any vision."  A half century wiser, all Bostonians await the truth to her wisdom and one other wisdom: "Once burned... twice learned."  
 
Time will tell. 

To emphasize the "BIG" in Dig... one should know that the The BIG Dig is actually comprised of separate Big (huge and technically remarkable in their own right) constructions:
 
1.  The construction of the 4 lane Ted William Tunnel (named to honor the Boston Red Sox' famed slugger) to extend the Massachusetts Turnpike (Interstate 90) under Boston Harbor directly to Logan Airport, thus relieving the Sumner and Callahan Tunnels. 
 
2.  Replacing the 6 elevated lanes with an 8-10 lanes directly underneath the exisiting expressway -- WHILE NOT CLOSING IT!  Truly a by-pass operation of great logisitical and technical difficulty.  
 
3.  The construction of of the Zakim Bridge to span the Charles River at the northern end of the new highways as it surfaces.
 
4.  The rehabilitation of acreage, once wasted beneath the elevated structure, into a useful city resource and walk-to-the-sea.
 
Today, Big Dig construction is in its final stages... 
 
In late 2003, work commenced to remove the the elevated highway... Currently, temporary crossways connect the North End with the City...  And... work is progressing at a fever-pitch because "Honey, Company is Coming!" 
 
The world knows it as....
 The Democratic National Convention 2004.
 

"To put these highway improvements in the ground in a city like Boston has amounted to one of the largest, most technically difficult and environmentally challenging infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the United States."
 
Source:  THE OFFICAL BIG DIG WEBSITE which we acknowledge for valuable information in creating this page.  It's a great site... and a fascinating read. 
 
SOME STATS:
The Project includes...
7.8 miles of highway... 161 lanes miles in all, about half in tunnels.
3.8 million cubic yards of concrete... that's 2,350 acres, one foot thick)
16 million cubic yards of soil excavated.
4 four major highway interchanges connecting new roadways with existing regional highway systems
 
BEGIN CONSTRUCTION: Late 1991
CURRENT STATUS: >90% complete. 
ESTIMATED END DATE: Mid-year 2005.
 
HEALTH BENEFITS: 12% reduction in carbon monoxide levels
GREEN SPACE BENEFITS: The creation >260 acres of open land, including 27 acres where the existing Central Artery existed. 
 
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