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monsoon, December 7, 2003 in Urban Transit
176 members have voted
I feel that the Big Dig was an excellent project that is a modern urban wonder. No other city has anything like it. It was the victim of bad people in suits and the Massachusetts taxpayers are stuck with most of the bill. Even still most of the money was spent to keep the city moving while the project was built. Most of the critizism is from some of the same pols that delayed the project 10 years and drove up the original costs. Ronald Reagan and co. did there damnest to kill funding. It's amazing how much money is spent on weapons in this country and so little on nuts and bolts projects that fix problems, improve the city and create tons of jobs.
The benefits of the Big Dig extend far beyond just roadways. It upgraded the whole infrastructure of DT Boston, one of Americas oldest densely urban areas. Most of the phone wires and water pipes and the such weren't even on any maps. The first part of the project was to dig everything up and modernize it. Now the city has a state of the art fiber optic communications infrastructure and water pipes that don't leak or give you lead poisoning .
It expanded the MBTA to again become North Americas sixth largest mass transit system(that's a whole other thread), while maintaining heavily subsidized fares that are about half of most major cities. It's going up a little but you can still ride for about a buck!
It has increased the value of East Boston real estate well beyond $15 billion by making it 10 minutes from Newton, the North and South Shores, where before it could take two hours thru a traffic clogged two lane tunnel under Boston Harbor.
I disagree with the contention that all highways are bad and feel the citys` port and manufacturing economy will suffer without them causing businesses to move to suburban ares that have highway access. Just because traffic is better doesn't mean people are not using the T and using the artery to commute to work. We are still the home of the $70,000 parking space.
Let us start at the beginning... Years ago during WWII Boston was a fairly important port city that had never really emerged from the great depression....
I've got to agree with Scott. My impression of the big dig is far from purely a 15 billion dollar auto centric project.
It repaired split up neighborhoods, brought additional class and character with a very nice bridge, soon to have new park land, and excellent redevelopment opportunties to a city that already has a very nice DT park and plenty of character and class. Lastly, as scott mentioned there were mass transit improvements included in the project. Although I would have liked to see light rail, mass transit was not forgotten as a part of this project.
I know I don't live in Boston, but overall I don't have a big problem with the project. In fact, despite the fact that much of the construction was building and expanding the roadway system, I think it did an excellent job of actually taking cars further out of the sites of Boston, taking them underground and and rebuilding a neighborhood. In this case, I think despite being a roadway project it actually did more to encourage urban life in Boston than just about any other road project I can think of.
The big dig was paid in significant part by MA residents and turnpike tolls, I wish I had a breakdown because it would help stem the resentment from other cities. During the time of the big dig, MA also spent billions on trains and BRT. While the big dig did benefit Boston it also benifitted New England in general, and was paid with a lot of local money.
Other states got a lot of highway money during the 20 year long big dig just not for a single project.
I would love to see more subway upgrades (some stations were rebuilt as part of the big dig) especially a circle line, but it will take time, and not be part of the big dig..
People outside of Boston often try to compare the Big Dig to San Francisco's Embarcadero Highway. The Embarcadero was torn down after being damaged in an earthquake, and replaced with a surface boulevard and streetcars. This is of course terrific. But it is not apples to apples. The Embarcadero was a highway to nowhere. It went towards the Golden Gate, but did not connect to it. It could be removed without disrupting decades old traffic patterns too much.
Boston's Central Artery however was built in the 50s and formed a vital expressway link between millions of people south of Boston and millions of people north of Boston. It could not simply be torn down and be done with. Traffic patterns across New England had evolved over decades with the Central Artery there, and it grew to be a vital part of the region's transportation system.
The Central Artery was obsolete, rush 'hour' in Boston was literally approaching 16 hours a day, costing billions of dollars in having the regions revenue, sitting, stagnate on the elevated structure. The elevated structure, and it's idling traffic also contributed to a terrible air quality situation in Downtown Boston costing untold millions or billions in medical costs. The Central Artery had to be traversed for millions of people in Southeastern New England to get to Logan Airport. We've boosted flight traffic at regional airports in NH and RI, but Boston's airport needed to be readily accessible for the health of Boston's and New England's economy.
Billions of dollars were also spent simply trying to figure out how to do this. Nothing like this has ever been attempted anywhere. Many of the techniques employed on this project were created on site. Many more techniques where experimental or were never done in the US, or were never used for a project of the Big Dig's magnitude. All of these techniques are now proven and available to cities across the country without the expense of trying to figure out how to do it, or if it will work.
And you truly have to understand how vast this project was in order to appreciate it's price tag. In the heart of one of the country's oldests and densest cities we built the nation's longest interstate highway tunnel while keeping the lights on, the water running, and the toilets flushing for thousands of offices and residents that were within a stones throw of the project. None of the surrounding buildings whose foundation were often within inches of said tunnels suffered any appreciable structural damage. Also, upwards of 220,000 vehicles a day traveled over the work zone, without interruption. The tunnel was threaded over and under the city's existing transit system. The tunnel was constructed within inches of an active subway tunnel. The new tunnel was connected to two existing under harbour highway tunnels carrying 90,000 vehicles a day, without interupting that traffic.
That is just one section. The world's widest cable stayed bridge was also constructed, and connected to local traffic, Artery Traffic, and Tobin Bridge traffic (85,000 vehicles per day). This was also the worlds first cantilevered cable stayed bridge. The bridge needed to be built to connect to the tunnels under construction without interupting I-93s traffic, but be able to, when done, connect to existing pieces of I-93 as well as a new interchange for the Tobin Bridge. The bridge needed to not interrupt commuter rail traffic at one of the busiest commuter rail stations in the country. Auxiliary bridges were built over the active commuter rail tracks and station. The bridge's piers had to be specially designed to avoid the underground orange line subway tunnels. And it also had to cross a river.
But that's not all. A third harbour tunnel was built to connect to a completely redesigned Logan Airport roadway system and into Route 1A to serve Boston's North Shore. The Airport T station was moved and rebuilt to make way for the highway improvements. An extention of the Massachusetts Turnpike was tunneled under active commuter rail lines, over an active subway tunnel and under Fort Point Channel connecting to more land tunnels and the Harbour Tunnel. A major highway interchange was completely redesigned and rebuilt with most ramps being placed underground.
The Commonwealth and it's agencies also agreed to a whole array of mitigation that was not part of the Big Dig's pricetag. Commuter Rail service on two lines to the South Shore was restored (a third line is in the works). The Silver Line BRT will create a direct link from South Station to the new Convention Centre and on to the airport. The T is legally bound to retore trolley service on the E line to Arborway. Also trolleys are to be extended north to Medford. Ferry service was increased for commuters on the South Shore. Low emmission CNG buses have been introduced to the Ts fleet. Subway lines have (or are to) received new cars. New Commuter Rail stops were built and lines were extended throughout the Commuter Rail system...
It was without a doubt, not a big mistake.
I honestly think the original budget of a few billion dollars was a pipe dream use mainly to satisfy the feds to provide funding. There is no way you can build a project like this for a few billion dollars. It is absolutely amazing what the engineers have accomplished. Also keep in mind that a huge cost of the money is mitigation. No projects can be built nowadays without mitigation. To satisfy the environmentalist, big dig officials had to provide new parks, not just the parks on the central artery but, over 30 additional parks scattered throughout the city. To satisfy the transport lobby, they had to promise in writing extension of the E line to Arborway. The list goes on and on. So, the impact to the city is massive outside of the big dig corridor.
All in all, given that the central artery was built. This is the absolutely best scenario to fix the problem. There was no way to tear down the freeway as economic impact will be too massive.
Unfortunately, the stupidity of building freeways through the heart of downtown is killing a lot of other cities in this country and I doubt that the feds will pony up any more money for projects like this. Boston is lucky to get it done. It will have long term effects that will be priceless.
Given how hard it is to build anything in boston it is absolutely incredible that this project ever started. Now that its almost done, no one can imagine how the city could have lived and prospered without it.
I actually like the idea of tearing down inner city freeways and replacing them with broad boulevards. It would increase the action downtown, and that would be good. This option won't work everywhere, but it could help a lot of places. Especially spur freeways that pass thru part of a city and die out.
There's good and bad to the Big Dig.
Interestingly though, Jane Jacobs, the world's most famous urbanist, criticized the project for increasing auto capacity. In her opinion, they should have decreased auto capacity, not increased it. I tend to agree.
Wasn't too long ago "Urbanists" wanted to tear down whole neighborhoods ala "Urban Renewal". The Central Artery was only 3 lanes wide at its widest, and two at alot of points, it could hardly be a funtional roadway with any less... Or maybe this person just prescribes to the notion that all expressways are bad and wants to use Boston as a test case for their theories.
Downtown Toronto's only freeway is only 3 lanes each way at it's widest, and only 2 lanes each way through part of downtown, and downtown Toronto has far, far more office space and office workers than downtown Boston. It works fine because it forces people to commute using public transit, and encourages different patterns of development. If this freeway was widened, it would just attract more traffic, and would still be just as slow-moving and congested, and more people would be driving leading to undesirable development patterns and worse pollution.
I'm surprised though that anyone on an urban development board would refer to Jane Jacobs as "this person". She is the most famous and respect urban expert in the entire world, and has been for decades. Her thoughts and theories have proven right for decades. It is well-known that she is against increasing freeway capacity downtown, and for good reason.
This is an interesting discussion.
I was at the airport today and took some of the big dig tunnels on my trip. I remember how it was before the BD, slow, idling cars wasting fuel and time, and causing air pollution. Now I can get to the airport and various parts of the city pretty easily. One thing that occurred to me was that in virtually any other US city it would be taken for granted that traveling 5 or 10 miles would not take several hours, but that is how it often was before the bigdig.
On Christmas Eve I have to drive from Providence to the North Shore to the Cape and then back to Providence. I'll be using the new artery twice. It's rather nice to hope that I won't have to plan in an extra 4 hours for the artery sections of that drive.
Cotuit, if you don't drive south on the artery before December 19th, you will never drive on the elevated section again. Will you miss the skyline ride?
For some reason I will...
I took a last drive on it over the summer. Had to drive my parents from Mass General. Very strange driving the wrong way through the Dewey Square Tunnel.
State prodded on transit pact
Failing to expand commuters' options as Big Dig wraps up
By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff, 12/15/2003
The head of the state Department of Environmental Protection has warned that the Romney administration is violating a judge's order from 2000 mandating improvements to the state's transit system to coincide with completion of the Big Dig.
Robert Golledge, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, wrote in a Dec. 8 letter to state transportation secretary Daniel A. Grabauskas and Michael Mulhern, the general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, that "compliance with the [agreement] is particularly important as the Central Artery/Tunnel project nears completion."
The legally binding administrative consent order derives from a 1990 pact signed by then-state transportation secretary Frederick Salvucci and Douglas Foy, then president of the Conservation Law Foundation. The pact was essentially a promise by the state that numerous transit improvements -- the extension of the Green Line to West Medford, a Red-Blue line connector in Boston, the restoration of the Arborway line -- would move ahead, providing an alternative to driving on the Big Dig's new roadway system.
"The level of planning work at this stage strongly suggests a lack of commitment to prioritize these projects for funding," Golledge says in the letter. Environmental officials are in charge of enforcing the consent order because it is tied to air-pollution reduction targets, and those officials could technically levy a fine against the state for violating the agreement.
Foy, who is in charge of transportation, housing, and environmental affairs for Romney, said last week that Golledge's letter was "appropriate" and that "the underlying issue is what our transit investments are going to be."
Grabauskas immediately called Golledge after receiving the letter to set up a meeting, and will "provide any information they want and work to resolve the outstanding issues," said the secretary's spokesman, Jon Carlisle.
The rationale for the agreement was that along with the billions invested in the Big Dig, which is nearing completion with the opening of the southbound Interstate 93 tunnel next weekend, the state also should spend money on improving and extending the transit system. But the Romney administration has yet to lay out a plan for which projects to pursue or in what order.
Romney, who met with other New England governors on federal transportation funding last week, said that his first priority was to make sure the distribution formula did not get altered so that Massachusetts receives less in funding, for either highway or transit projects. He emerged from a meeting of the Coalition of Northeastern Governors on the subject and said that "we decided that we will stand together and raise the decibel level of our voices" in arguing against any change in the formula.
The six-year federal transportation spending bill is currently being reauthorized in Washington. "We cannot see essential dollars for our region get siphoned off to our south and to the west," Romney said.
US Representative James McGovern, meanwhile, at a Dec. 9 breakfast of business leaders, called for renewal of an agreement that Massachusetts spend $400 million each year on roads and bridges other than the Big Dig. That pact is to expire in 2005. McGovern, Democrat of Worcester, said the Romney administration was showing "no vision" in laying out a transportation agenda.
Why is this coming up now? It looks to me the last post was in 2003!
In any case, since the topic was brought up, two years later, what is your opinion now on this? Any different?
When someone votes in a poll, it brings the topic back to the top of the list. Even if they only vote and don't post.
Getting that awful elevated highway out of the core of a great city, in my opinion, is priceless. Of course the costs, the time, and now the leaks may make others think differently.
The only thing I miss from the Central Artery was the skyline view. But you still get a nice view going over the beautiful Zakim bridge. The Big Dig was worth every penny IMO...even though I don't even live in Mass and don't have to pay for it
Too bad the rail link wasn't built at the same time as the highway. It'll cost a lot more to build it now that the highway is in place, and it almost certainly won't end up happening for a matter of decades, if at all.
It's not likely to be built for a long time. But the slurry walls of the artery were sunk deep enough to allow the rail link to go below the artery in the future.
Considering how Boston was almost ruined by urban renewal, including the construction of the original central artery, something just had to be done to repair the damage. It would have been smarter in the 50s to build the artery in a big ditch so that private development could eventually cover it and sew the city back together as happened with some of the Mass Turnpike (and currently with plans for more air rights development). The scars from the former elevated highway will likely show for along time even after the Greenway is complete. There are a number of historic buildings that were mutilated for the highway and a number of garages built with the expectation that they would always be next to a highway and not a park. Though some buildings constructed during the Big Dig's planning have nicer facades facing what was then the elevated highway and probably built with the parks in mind. And the current and planned projects are very exciting and include a good deal of new residential buildings.
Boston's coming of age occurred before the automobile. This explains a lot of what is wonderful about the city. But age of automobiles cut the city into pieces and nearly killed it. The Big Dig is reconstructive surgery. No one will dispute that $15 billion was too much, but the improvement is quite radical.
Nicely put^ I'm curious, which rail line is the one built in the ROW cleared for I-95 to go into the city? Is it the Attleboro/Stoughton or the Fairmont one? Thank God that never happened...
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