Massive infastructure construction project in Boston. The biggest of its kind in history. Has built things like the Ted Williams tunnel already and every once in a while, another road is opened downtown. The area around South Station will be unrecognizable after the blue walls blocking construction come down.

What you get when you cross a highway project with an urban renewal project. The major components are:
The Ted Williams Tunnel, which extends the Mass Pike (Interstate 90) east to Logan Airport. This will also connect the Southeast Expressway to Logan; the Boston end of the Sumner Tunnel (SB) and Callahan Tunnel (NB) (which carry MA 1A) will be reworked for direct access only to the north.
The Central Artery, which is being rebuilt from Andrew Square to Charlestown, including a tunnel from Chinatown (where one already exists and will become the SB lanes) to the Charles River and a new cable-stayed bridge over the Charles.
The Leverett Circle Connector, which is a new bridge over the Charles River with direct access to US 1 to the Tobin Bridge and Interstate 93. This also includes a tunnel under Leverett Circle for eastbound traffic, which will complete Soldiers Field Road and Storrow Drive as a freeway from Harvard to Interstate 93. There will still be a traffic light for traffic from Storrow Drive to Interstate 93 southbound though :(
The Charlestown tunnel on US 1, which was the first thing completed in the Big Dig. New loop ramps were built to Interstate 93.

Cost overruns have plagued the project, which have been caused by adding the Ted Williams Tunnel and mistakes in measuring the geography.
A welcome thing from all those who commute in Boston via any mode of transportation other than the T. If you took the T, you could be as late as you wanted to and say, "Heh--I took the T." And your lateness would be excused in an instant. I think it was Dave Barry who said that if Godot finally showed up and said, "Oh--I took the T" then all would be understood.

Anyhow, this creates a problem for those who don't take the T, but rather other modes of transportation. With the Big Dig, they can now say, "Oh, I had to skirt the Big Dig through a maze of detours that would make most Greek heroes weep in bitter defeat, give up and go home."

Thus it is a good thing that the Big Dig will be around for another decade or so.

Incidentally, they have their own web-site from which, in the happiness of your own home, you too can view the "progress" (and I use that term loosely).

While the CA/T project (The Big Dig is the media's name for it) has certainly had its share of problems (cost overruns, corrupt political fiascos, etc.), those who think that the Big Dig consists of just a big tunnel and a couple of roads, consider what's actually being built, and the way it's being done...

  • A 7.5 mile road (161 lanes miles) has to be built, half of it underground, by excavating 13 million cubic yards of earth and laying down over 3.8 million cubic yards of concrete. These new lanes of highway have to built directly underneath existing roads that service almost 200,000 vehicles a day, meaning that the entire infrastructure had to be moved onto new supports.
  • The showpiece Leonard P. Zakim bridge - a mammoth 10 lane cable-stayed bridge (with two of those lanes cantilevered on one side) must be built next to the existing structure. This is the largest bridge of its type and the first built with an asymmetric design.
  • The Ted Williams Tunnel, the third harbor tunnel, doubled Boston's harbor tunnel capacity when opened in 1995. Built on-time and within budget, the 1.6 mile bridge received the Excellence in Highway Design award from the U.S. DOT. It was built out of 300-foot steel tubes shipped from Baltimore, lowered into a trench dug by the world's largest dredging machine.
  • Extensions must be built from the Mass Turnpike (I-90) and Route 1-A to the Ted Williams Tunnel. The extension of the Mass Turnpike required the construction of a dry dock the size of an aircraft carrier, and the tunnel itself is made from concrete sections, the first time this has been done in the United States.
  • The four lane Leverett Connector Bridge, built alongside the showpiece Charles River Bridge, was completed in 1999 one week ahead of schedule. It was built from North America's largest box section girders.
  • On top of that, countless access roads and tunnels have been built to keep construction vehicles off regularly travelled roads.
Aside from these massive construction efforts, most of which contain words like 'largest in North America' and 'first ever', the project also calls for a huge environmental undertaking...

  • Spectacle Island, once a mountain of decaying garbage, leaking nastiness into the harbor, has been transformed into a recreational area. Over 3 million cubic yards was added to cap the island, a dike built to contain soil erosion, trees planted, walking paths construction, and visitors center built complete with docking access for public ferries and recreational vehicles. The 100 acre island will become a part of the Boston Harbor Islands State Park.
  • Three land fills next to the Blue Hills Reservation have been capped to create the Quarry Hills Park. The new public park will feature two golf courses, four baseball fields, and two soccer fields.
  • An artifical reef system, the northernmost in the United States, was installed between Spectacle and Long Island to create a new habitat for blue mussels and other shellfish. The reef system creates 88,000 square feet of new ocean floor surface area.
  • The CA/T project is also responsible for the restoration of eighteen acres of wetlands at the Rumney Marsh in Revere.
  • The removal of the rusting, green overpass that is Route 93 will create 27 acres of parks to add to the 140 acres that the CA/T is creating separately.
Now, when you consider that all of this going on in the midst of everyday traffic, and add to that the separate construction of the North Station facility, the impending development of the Seaport District, and the expansion and modernization of Logan Airport, and you can see why a lot of people are pissed off at the clusterfuck that Boston's infrastructure has become.

But step back and look at the big picture. They're doing this without bringing the city to a complete halt. They're doing this amidst notoriously corrupt politicians eager to get their fingers in the Big Dig pie. And they're doing this using techniques that didn't even exist when the project was first proposed with equipment that they had to invent. I think you should expect a few problems here and there.

Some people have called this a major embarassment for Massachusetts. I think of it as the opposite. When it's all done, this may be Boston's finest hour.

Now that the Big Dig is done (essentially), I figured I'd go check it out. As a voter who lives a generous 100 miles from Boston, the CA/T has been sapping up my tax dollars for the two years that I've been paying them, so I was obligated to get my money's worth.

The I-93 Tunnel: Northbound (the way that counts): The tunnel is disturbingly well-lit. That's the first thing that you notice, because it's like driving through a high school cafeteria. This can be pretty deadly coming out of the tunnel at night, because the light shift is a little drastic.

Also, the traffic is still terrible, and I drove it at 2:15 PM and 9:45 PM, on weekdays. The tunnel is, the majority of the time, still only three lanes plus merges, which means that it's not really all that much better than the elevated. This was bad. But there are some high points...

Leonard P. Zakim Bridge: The cable-stayed bridge is a-freakin'-mazing. Even though the infrastructure on both sides of it is somewhat lacking, the view of downtown and the Fleet Center is exceptional and the bridge itself is one of the best pieces of architectural design I've seen in years. The interplay of the cables defies description. Drive it.

Storrow Drive Reconstruction: The connector from Storrow to the highway is currently routed through a traffic light, which is miserable and backs traffic up on Storrow Drive for miles. But the repairs are nice, and the traffic light is supposedly going away.

Storrow Drive Connector Bridge: This is pretty unremarkable. It's just a bridge.

Ted Williams Tunnel / Massachusetts Turnpike Expansion: The first piece of the project has been done for awhile, but it's easily the best chunk of highway that they've built. The tunnel is well past capacity and easy to drive in, unlike the revamped South Station tunnel and the harshly curved Artery tunnel.

All in all? I wish I hadn't paid for it, but it's still pretty impressive. Once the parks go up on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, I suspect that I'll be a lot happier. Traffic keeps flowing, and I guess that's what matters for now.

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