"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,
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
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
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.